50+ Famous Epitaphs (and What Makes Them Unique)

Published September 24, 2020
William Shakespeare's grave

Famous epitaphs, or headstone inscriptions, offer a glimpse at what made some of the most culturally significant people in the world so special. From politicians like Winston Churchill to entertainers like Tupac Shakur, these epitaphs are the words friends and family chose to memorialize their lost loved ones.

Famous Epitaphs of Poets and Writers

Some writers are remembered with an excerpt from their work or a quote, while others have epitaphs quoting Bible verses or other writers. These are some famous epitaphs of authors:

  • William Shakespeare - "Good Friend, for Jesus' sake forbear/ To dig the dust enclosed here:/ Blessed be the man that spares these stones,/ And curst be he that moves my bones."
  • Langston Hughes - "Oh God of dust and rainbows, help us see/ that without dust the rainbow would not be."
  • Robert Frost - "I had a lover's quarrel with the world."
  • John Keats - "This grave contains all that was Mortal of a Young English Poet Who on his Death Bed, in the Bitterness of his Heart at the Malicious Power of his Enemies Desired these Words to be engraven on his Tomb Stone: Here lies One Whose Name was writ in Water."
John Keats Tombstone in Rome
  • Dorothy Parker - "Excuse my dust."
  • John Donne - "Reader, I am to let thee know,/ Donne's body only lies below;/ For could the grave his soul comprise,/ Earth would be richer than the skies."
  • F. Scott Fitzgerald - "So we beat on, boats against the current, borne back ceaselessly into the past. - The Great Gatsby"
  • Oscar Wilde - "And alien tears will fill for him/ Pity's long broken urn,/ For his mourners will be outcast men,/ And outcasts always mourn."
Tomb of Oscar Wilde
  • Percy Bysshe Shelley - "Nothing of him that doth fade/ But doth suffer a sea-change/ Into something rich and strange." (from The Tempest by Shakespeare)
  • William Butler Yeats - "Cast a cold eye/ On life, on death./ Horseman, pass by!"
  • Charles Bukowski - "Don't try."

Actors and Entertainment Personalities

Hollywood actors, musicians, comedians, and other celebrities have unique and famous epitaphs that epitomize the mark they made on the world. Many are short epitaphs chosen by the person before death. These are some of the most notable:

  • Bette Davis - "She did it the hard way."
  • Lucille Ball - "You've come home."
  • John Barrymore - "Goodnight, sweet prince."
  • Mel Blanc (the voice of Bugs Bunny) - "That's all folks."
Mel Blanc headstone
  • Merv Griffin - "I will not be right back after this message"
  • Rita Hayworth - "To yesterday's companionship/ And tomorrow's reunion"
  • John Belushi - "I may be gone, but Rock and Roll lives on."
  • Leslie Nielson - "Let 'er rip."
  • Tupac Shakur - "I'm not saying I'm going to change the world, but I will spark the brain that will change the world."
  • Michael Landon - "He seized life with joy. He gave to life generously. He leaves a legacy of love and laughter."
  • John Wayne - "Tomorrow is the most important thing in life, comes into us at midnight very clean. It hopes we've learned something from yesterday."
  • Mickey Rooney - "One of the greatest entertainers the world has ever known. Hollywood will always be his home."
  • Billy Wilder - "I'm a writer, but then, nobody's perfect."
  • Frank Sinatra - "The best is yet to come."
  • Elvis Presley - "You gave yourself to each of us in some manner. You were wrapped in thoughtfulness and tied with love. May this flame reflect our never ending respect and love for you. May it serve as a constant reminder to each of us of your eternal presence."
Elvis Presley's Grave
  • Jim Morrison - "KATA TON DAIMONA EAYTOY (Greek)," which translates as "True to his own spirit"
  • Rodney Dangerfield - "There goes the neighborhood."

  • Dee Dee Ramone - "OK...I gotta go now."

  • Johnny Cash - "Psalm 19:14/ Let the words of my mouth, and the meditation of my heart, be acceptable in thy sight, O Lord, my strength, and my redeemer."

  • Joan Hackett - "Go away - I'm asleep."

  • Joe DiMaggio - "Grace, dignity and elegance personified"

Other Famous Epitaphs

From activists to politicians, the famous epitaphs of people who changed the world can be inspiring to read. These capture the person's legacy and are some of the most memorable:

  • Martin Luther King, Jr. - "Free at Last,/ Free at Last,/ Thank God Almighty/ I'm Free at Last!"
  • Coretta Scott King - "And now abide faith, hope, love, these three; but the greatest of these is love."-I Cor. 13:13
  • Ronald Reagan - "I know in my heart that man is good, that what is right will always eventually triumph, and there is purpose and worth to each and every life."
  • Thomas Jefferson - "Here lies Thomas Jefferson, author of the Declaration of Independence, and of the Statutes establishing religious toleration in the Commonwealth of Virginia."
  • Benjamin Franklin - "The Body of B. Franklin, Printer; like the Cover of an old Book, Its Contents torn out, And stript of its Lettering and Gilding, Lies here, Food for Worms. But the Work shall not be wholly lost; For it will, as he believ'd, appear once more, In a new & more perfect Edition, Corrected and amended By the Author."
  • Bill Kugle (Texas House of Representatives) - "He never voted for Republicans and had little to do with them."
  • Alexander Hamilton - "The patriot of incorruptible integrity, the soldier of approved valour, the statesman of consummate wisdom, whose talents and virtues will be admired long after this marble has mouldered into dust."
  • Richard Nixon - "The greatest honor history can bestow is the title of peacemaker."
  • Leonard Matlovich (first openly gay member of the US Military) - "When I was in the military, they gave me a medal for killing two men and a discharge for loving one."
  • Sir Winston Churchill - "I am ready to meet my Maker. Whether my Maker is prepared for the great ordeal of meeting me is another matter."
  • Ernest Shackleton - "I hold that a man should strive to the uttermost for his life's set prize."

Famous Funny Epitaphs

Sometimes, the person isn't famous, but the epitaph is. These are some funny epitaphs that real people have chosen to use for their unique headstone inscriptions:

  • Jonathan Blake, buried in Uniontown Cemetery in Uniontown, PA - "Here lies the body of/ Jonathan Blake/ Stepped on the gas/ Instead of the brake"
  • William H. Hahn Jr., buried in Princeton Cemetery, Princeton, NJ - "I told you I was sick."
  • Fran Thatcher, buried in Prairie Mound Cemetery, Dane County, WI - "Damn, it's dark down here."
  • Michael Leroy "Pac Man" Luther, buried in Thetford Township Cemetery, Clio, MI - "Game over."
  • Ezekial Aikle, buried in East Dalhousie Cemetery, Nova Scotia - "Here lies Ezekial Aikle/ Age 102/ The good die young."
  • Anonymous, buried in Stowe, VT - "I was somebody. Who, is no business of yours."
  • Robert Clay Allison (gunslinger in the Wild West) - "He never killed a man that did not need killing."
Clay Allison tombstone
  • Spike Milligan (comedian) - "Duirt mé leat go raibh mé breoite" (Irish), which translates to "I told you I was ill."

Epitaphs Should Fit the Personality of the Deceased

Whether they are for the rich and famous or for ordinary people, the best epitaphs fit the person who has died. If you are writing an epitaph for someone special, take some time to consider the personality of your lost loved one. Sometimes, simple words make the best memorial.

50+ Famous Epitaphs (and What Makes Them Unique)