“Of course I know who you are. You’re my girl. I love you”
John Wayne (1907 – 1979)
True Grit screen legend and star of more than 150 films, The Duke was also a devoted family man and father of seven who drove an unspectacular station wagon. He was surrounded by his loved ones during his final days before he died of cancer in hospital. It’s said his last words were spoken to his daughter Aissa when she gently took his hand at the end, asking asked if he recognised her. The star was also a man of faith and wrote simple prayers his grandson Matthew, now a priest, described as ‘love letters’ to God.
“Goodnight my kitten”
Ernest Hemingway (1899 – 1961)
Great American novelist Ernest Hemingway bid his wife Mary Welsh goodnight with these bittersweet words, before taking his own life the next day. He’d wed journalist Mary, his fourth wife, in Cuba in 1946, saying: “You're beautiful, like a mayfly," when they first met. Although famed as a man’s man, recently-discovered letters revealed he didn’t shy from using pet names and penning endearing sentiments to the women he loved.
“You’re right. It’s time. I love you all”
Michael Landon (1936 – 1991)
Generations of us grew up watching Michael Landon star in TV favourites including Bonanza, Little House on the Prairie and Highway to Heaven. The father of nine died after a short battle with pancreatic cancer, aged 54, with dying words of reassurance on his lips. His daughter Jennifer and son Sean are now advocates for American charity The Pancreatic Cancer Action Network which is helping advance research into a cure for the disease.
“I’ll finally get to see Marilyn”
Joe DiMaggio (1914 – 1999)
Legendary baseball player Joe DiMaggio never stopped loving screen legend, Marilyn Monroe. Although she’d re-married – and divorced playwright Arthur Miller – following her split from the New York Yankees star, it was Joe who had her enshrined in her crypt at Westwood Park memorial and sent roses every week. He never remarried and held her in his heart to the end, as his now famous words reflect.
“I love you”
Oliver Hardy (1892 – 1957 )
The last words of silver screen comedy star Oliver Hardy were spoken to his beloved wife Lucille, who nursed her darling ‘Babe’ through his final illness. Ollie’s death left his comedy partner Stan Laurel bereft, too: Writing to a friend about the loss of his dear ‘Pal’, he said: “I miss him terribly and feel quite lost.” Stan vowed never to appear on screen again without his buddy – and kept to his word until his own death, in 1965.
“I love you all”
Natalie Cole (1950 – 2015)
Sophisticated Lady Natalie Cole fought her health battles with courage, but succumbed to her final illness aged just 65, with her son Robert by her side. The singer-songwriter’s family had spent Christmas with her just days before she passed away, when she expressed her love for them all. Her sister Casey said: “She’s in Heaven now and she’s ringing in the new year in ways we don’t know.”
“You are wonderful”
Sir Arthur Conan Doyle (1859 – 1930)
Sherlock Holmes author Arthur Conan Doyle’s second wife, Jean, was the love of his life. During a lecture tour of the U.S. the lovelorn writer, then aged 64, would write her notes declaring his undying devotion. A great believer in spiritualism and the afterlife, Sir Arthur was already suffering from ill health when wandered for a final time into his garden in Crowborough, England. He addressed his famous final words to Jean as he died of a heart attack, a freshly-picked flower clutched in one hand.
“Love one another”
George Harrison (1942 – 2001)
“He died with one thought in mind – love one another,” George Harrison’s good friend Gavin de Becker revealed to devastated fans after the former Beatles guitarist passed away aged 58 in L.A. in 2001. Famed for his quests in search of spiritual enlightenment and enrichment, the Here Comes the Sun singer-songwriter died with his wife Olivia and son Dhani by his side. “I will miss him,” said Olivia, of their enduring love, “until my dying day.”
T.S. Eliot (1888-1965)
TS Eliot married his second wife, Valerie, in his autumn years, but confessed later would have proposed far sooner, if he had realised the strength of ardour his prim secretary felt for him. Already enchanted by The Wasteland poet’s work, she successfully applied to be his assistant in 1949, but it took him until 1956 to propose. By then, he was in his mid-sixties, his bride age 30. Their eight years of marriage brought joy to them both, but Eliot’s health began to fail. Falling into a coma in the new year of 1965, he briefly came round and whispered his beloved’s name before drawing his final breath.
“I’m going to be with Gloria now.”
James Stewart (1908 – 1997)
Shortly before his 80th birthday, Hollywood screen legend Jimmy Stewart asked how he’d like to be remembered. As someone who believed in hard work and love of country, love of family and love of community, was his reply. Deeply admired and loved in return, his children were by his side at his Beverly Hills home at the end of his wonderful life and his late wife, Gloria, was in his heart. They had been married 45 years. “Our love,” he’d said after she died in 1994, “will continue in Heaven.”