A book I'm reading says that Poncho Villa’s last words before dying were: "Don’t let it end like this. Tell them I said something." I found that very amusing. He knew he was dying, but had nothing significant to say as his last words so he asked that they make up something instead. That made me curious about "last words" so I did some checking. Here’s some information I found interesting.
There was Luther Burbank’s last words, that turned out to be one hundred percent true. He said "I don’t feel good." I also thought it consistent with a military general to have shook off the warnings of his subordinates, in 1864, and climbed up for a better view of the battlefield. He said to them: "They couldn’t hit an elephant at this dist…." and was shot dead while still talking.
But, the strangest circumstances surrounding a death statement involved Christine Chubbuck who was born in 1944 in Ohio where she attended a girls school and college in Ohio where she majored in theater arts. She went on to get a degree in broadcasting at Boston University and got a job at a radio and television station in Cleveland. She went on to work for public television stations and ended up working for a television station in Florida. She was originally hired as a reporter and then had a community affairs talk show.
She apparently suffered from depression and suicide tendencies. There was an attempted overdose of medication and she began seeing a psychiatrist. The station was not aware of this. She asked the station manager if she could a piece on suicide and he agreed. She interviewed the sheriff about methods of suicide and was told a revolver to the back of the head rather then the temple was most efficient.
On July 15, 1974 she was on the air and covered the news when a film about one of the stories she was reporting jammed. At that point she said:
"In keeping with Channel 40's policy of bringing you the latest in blood and guts, and in living color, you are going to see another first – an attempted suicide."
She pulled out a revolver and shot herself, on camera, just behind the right ear. She fell forward on the desk. The people in the studio at first thought it was a prank. The studio quickly ran some film while some viewers called the police and others called the station to see if was in fact a prank. She was rushed to a Sarasota hospital where she was pronounced dead.
At her funeral, the minister said something I thought very profound during the eulogy:
" We suffer at our sense of loss, we are frightened by her rage, we are guilty in the face of her rejection, we are hurt by her choice of isolation and we are confused by her message."
The tape of the shooting was seized as evidence and the parents obtained an injunction against showing it. It was later released to the family and have never been seen publicly since.
When I read about this tragic death, I thought about the 1976 movie Networkand wondered about a possible connection. You’ll recall that Paddy Chayefsky wrote the script and it won four Academy Awards. Peter Finch stared as a TV announcer who tells everyone he is going to commit suicide on the air. The station decides to take advantage of this and gives him a program where he tells the public his plans. The ratings for viewer watching go out of sight. Beal’s famous lines were:
"I don’t have to tell you things are bad. Everybody knows things are bad. It's a depression. Everybody's out of work or scared of losing their job. The dollar buys a nickel's work, banks are going bust, shopkeepers keep a gun under the counter. Punks are running wild in the street and there's nobody anywhere who seems to know what to do, and there's no end to it. We know the air is unfit to breathe and our food is unfit to eat, and we sit watching our TV's while some local newscaster tells us that today we had fifteen homicides and sixty-three violent crimes, as if that's the way it's supposed to be. We know things are bad – worse than bad. They're crazy. It's like everything everywhere is going crazy, so we don't go out anymore. We sit in the house, and slowly the world we are living in is getting smaller, and all we say is, 'Please, at least leave us alone in our living rooms. Let me have my toaster and my TV and my steel-belted radials and I won't say anything. Just leave us alone.' Well, I'm not gonna leave you alone. I want you to get mad! I don't want you to protest. I don't want you to riot – I don't want you to write to your congressman because I wouldn't know what to tell you to write. I don't know what to do about the depression and the inflation and the Russians and the crime in the street. All I know is that first you've got to get mad."
Then he began shouting at the television camera and says:
"….I want all of you to get up out of your chairs. I want you to get up right now and go to the window. Open it, and stick your head out, and yell: ‘I’m mad as hell and I’m not going to take this anymore…"
This wonderful movie with the "mad as hell" lines certainly seems to capture a lot of the feelings of people today. Whether the plot had anything to do with the real life, on camera suicide I don’t know. But, the similarity makes interesting speculation.