2 October 2008

Making a Memorable Exit!

The Mexicans may have their Day of the Dead, but the West is more cagey about the idea of kicking the bucket. It's something we all have in common but it still takes us by surprise. A new book 'Thinning the Herd', celebrates the sublime and the ridiculous that happens when a life ends. In extracts from the book, we tip our hats in particular to the famous - and the sometimes unusual ways in which they met their end.

ATTILA THE HUN(406-453)was one of history's most notorious villains. By 450 he had conquered Asia, destroying every village in his path and pillaged the countryside from Mongolia to the outer edges of the Russian Empire. He died of a nosebleed on his wedding night. The men who buried him and his treasures in 453 were put to death immediately so that the feared barbarian's grave would never be discovered.

British actor GEORGE SANDERS(1906-72) won an Acadamy Award for his role as a sarcastic theatre critic in All About Eve. He also played the lead in the 1956 film Death of a Salesman, and a schoolteacher who takes his own life in Village of the Damned. According to the short note found in his room where he died, he killed himself because he was bored.

After having been shot in battle, Mexican revolutionary PANCHO VILLA(1878-1923) turned to a journalist who was nearby and shouted: "Don't let it end like this! Tell them I said something!"

General JOHN SEDGWICK(1813-64), Union commander, was killed in battle during the US Civil War. His last words were: "They couldn't hit an elephant at this distance".

As JOAN CRAWFORD(1905-77) lay on her deathbed, her devoted housekeeper - and probably her one true friend in the world, fell to her knees and began to pray out loud for the legendary actress. Crawford turned to her immediately. Propping herself up, she said: "Damn it, don't you dare ask God to help me!". She was dead before her head hit the pillow.

ALBERT EINSTEIN(1879-1955) spoke his last words on his deathbed but we will never know what they were - his nurse didn't speak German.

The daring French philosopher VOLTAIRE(1694-1778) frequently refuted the fiercely held religious views of his times, despite the strict censorship laws of 18th century France. When a priest at his deathbed asked him to renounce Satan, he replied: "Now, now, dear man, this is not the time to be making enemies".

French grammarian DOMINIQUE BOUHOURS(1628-1702) was a stickler to the end. His last words were: "I am about to - or I am going to - die. Either expression is acceptable".

In the last years of his life WALT WHITMAN(1819-92) searched the depths of his soul for something glorious, a few brilliant and patriotic words to leave behind as his legacy for all of humanity. He gave up, finally, uttering only one word before dying: "S***".

Extracts from 'Thinning the Herd: Tales of the Wierdly Departed' by Cynthia Ceilan (Michael O'Mara Books, £10 - now £6.60 from Amazon).

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