Athletes' Last Words That Shook Us To The Core

The following article contains references to death, injuries, and suicide. 

When it comes to famous last words, it would appear that few can surpass the likes of Beethoven. "Pity, pity, too late," he said on his deathbed when gifted 12 bottles of wine from a publisher. To take a grim spin on the matter, Marie Antoinette is believed to have stepped on her executioner's foot and uttered, "Pardon me, sir. I did not do it on purpose," before she was beheaded. To think of beloved celebs, royals, public figures, or athletes so helpless in their final hours is painful for many fans, and it's tempting to perceive them as immortal. As Great Britain has witnessed in the shocking death of Queen Elizabeth II after more than 70 years on the throne, we are merely drops in the ocean. 

There are athletes who have made final declarations more chilling than we could ever have imagined. We often view the sportspeople we admire as untouchable symbols of strength, power, and determination. However, tragedy does not discriminate. Regardless of celebrity status, sportspeople are, after all, only human, and to be human is to be mortal. These venerated athletes have passed away under the most horrific circumstances; as such, their final utterances resonate forever. Get ready for goosebumps as we take a deep dive into athletes' last words that shook us to the core.

Emiliano Sala feared he was in danger

Emiliano Sala was heading for great things in 2019. The Argentinian soccer player was due to make his transfer from French Ligue 1 team Nantes to the English Premier League with Cardiff City, per the BBC. In a declaration that appears tragic on reflection, Sala spoke of his immense excitement at the time: "I'm very happy to be here. It gives me great pleasure and I can't wait to start training, meet my new teammates and get down to work." Sadly, Sala never would meet his new teammates.

As he made his way from Nantes to Cardiff by private aircraft, Sala and the pilot, David Ibbotson, were declared missing, per the Independent. After a fruitless initial search, a private search found a body, confirmed to be Sala's. The soccer star was killed when the plane crashed crossing the English channel, though the pilot's remains were never found, as noted by the Daily Mail. According to Metro, Sala died of carbon monoxide poisoning due to a faulty exhaust pipe. Ibbotson had previously been banned from flying due to negligence.

Olé obtained haunting audio recordings that Sala sent to his friends and family immediately before his death. One such message sees Sala admitting that he feared the aircraft was "about to fall apart." In his final recording, he said, "Let's see what happens... I don't know if they are going to send someone to look for me because they can't find me, but you know... Dad, I'm so scared!"

Kobe Bryant's bittersweet final post

2020 was a year that none of us are likely to forget anytime soon. Indeed, the new decade came to a harrowing start when NBA All-Star Kobe Bryant was killed in a helicopter crash in January, along with his 13-year-old daughter, Gianna, and seven others. Bryant was on his way to Gianna's teen basketball game when the helicopter crashed into a mountain, per CNN.

Chillingly, before he was killed, Bryant made his final social media post in the early hours of the morning. Paying tribute to fellow NBA icon LeBron James, Bryant tweeted, "Continuing to move the game forward @KingJames. Much respect my brother." Just a few hours later, he boarded the helicopter on which he would die. Bryant's final tweet appears rather ominous in the sense that James' career, and indeed life, reached even greater heights, while Bryant's ended prematurely that same day.

As noted by the Los Angeles Times, James, visibly distraught, was seen wiping away tears as the Lakers arrived at Los Angeles International Airport that afternoon. On the first anniversary of Bryant's death, James gave a speech at Chicago's United Center (via Sky Sports), where he paid a moving tribute to the late NBA icon. "There's a saying that says time heals all," he began. "As devastating and as tragic as it was and still is to all of us involved with it... it takes time... There's a lot of things that die in this world, but legends never die. And he's exactly that."

Daffney Unger's ominous last words

As with many wrestlers, Daffney Unger's life sadly came to a premature end. Best known by her mononymous ring-name, Daffney was famed for her impressive scream and goth girl persona. The talented athlete wrestled with World Championship Wrestling, and later, Total Nonstop Action Wrestling, per Bleacher Report.

After enduring a severe injury during a TNA pay-per-view match, Daffney began suffering from various health problems. According to Pro-Wrestling Insider, she sued the company for failing to cover her medical expenses, totaling $26,000. Moreover, she struggled with persistent, debilitating headaches, as her friend recalled to USA Today. Daffney feared that the headaches may have been caused by the traumatic brain injury C.T.E., which is commonly found in athletes who suffer head trauma, per People.

Tragically, these issues would culminate in an Instagram Live, in which an erratic Daffney spoke of her personal turmoil and was seen brandishing a firearm. As TMZ reports, she told her followers, "Do you guys not understand that I am all alone?", before ending her video on the chilling line, "Remember, my brain goes to Boston." After an outpouring of concern from anxious friends, colleagues, and fans, police arrived at Daffney's property and found her dead. She took her own life, aged 46. "This last act, I don't want it to define her," her friend Lexie Fyfe told New York Daily News. "She would always want people to reach out for help and to check in on those they're worried about." 

If you or anyone you know is having suicidal thoughts, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline by dialing 988 or by calling 1-800-273-TALK (8255)​.

Ayrton Senna was apprehensive before his fatal crash

Formula 1 driver Ayrton Senna was one of the best drivers of his generation. But the Brazilian champ's life was tragically cut short at the 1994 San Marino Grand Prix when a technical fault caused his car to crash into a barrier. Per Vice, Senna died on impact, with debris penetrating his helmet and causing a traumatic brain injury.

The fatal accident was not the first tragedy to occur that weekend. Just one day before, Roland Ratzenberger was killed when he, too, hit a barrier. Subsequently, Formula 1 doctor Sid Watkins, who said that Senna was devastated by Ratzenberger's death and burst into tears, warned the Brazilian superstar against racing. "What else do you need to do?" Watkins asked Senna the night before his fatal crash (as told in Watkins' memoir, "Life at the Limit"). "You have been World Champion three times, you are obviously the quickest driver. Give it up and let's go fishing." But Senna hauntingly replied, "Sid, there are certain things over which we have no control. I cannot quit, I have to go on."

When Senna was pulled from the wreckage the following day, Watkins recalled seeing his friend's lifeless body. "We lifted him from the cockpit and laid him on the ground. As we did he sighed and, though I am totally agnostic, I felt his soul departed at that moment," Watkins wrote in his memoir. Poignantly, an Austrian flag was found in Senna's car, with which he was going to honor Ratzenberger. Per ESPN, the 2019 Spanish Grand Prix honored both drivers with a combined Brazilian-Austrian flag.

Owen Hart thought of others before his tragic death

The WWE is famed for its myriad dark and sordid tales, but the most notorious tragedy in the company's history occurred in 1999. At the pay-per-view event "Over the Edge," Owen Hart was killed in front of a live audience, though footage of his accident was never broadcast to viewers at home. Hart fell to his death after his harness malfunctioned during what was meant to be his pre-match entrance, per CNN. "He was supposed to be lowered down into the ring," paramedic Michelle Hindorff explained. "It didn't get hooked on to him. He thought it was hooked on."

As recounted in the Vice series "Dark Side of the Ring," Hart's last words were "Look out!", which he yelled as he fell to his death. Commentator Jim Cornette noted that Hart's final, desperate utterance highlights his empathetic nature; even as he plunged to certain death, Hart thought of others. As Sports Illustrated argues, "In death, Hart brought something to wrestling that, to that point, fans had virtually never seen in the form: true, unadorned humanity."

Speaking with Uproxx, Hart's widow, Martha, discussed her husband's unwavering kindness and compassion, explaining that she wanted people to remember him as more than a wrestler, but as someone who sought to help others whenever he could. "He was such a kind person and so helpful to everyone, and such a humanitarian. ... He always wanted to spread that joy and help people any way he could," she reflected.

Phillip Hughes' chilling final words

Cricket has long been dubbed the "gentleman's game," and as such the sport isn't renowned for the premature deaths of its stars. But the shocking death of 25-year-old Phillip Hughes rocked the cricket world to its core.

In 2014, Australian cricketer Hughes was playing with South Australia against New South Wales when he was hit in the neck by a ball and fell unconscious to the ground, per ABC News Australia. Tragically, the impact ruptured an artery, causing a brain hemorrhage. Doctors dubbed the accident "very rare and very freakish." Failing to regain consciousness following the blow, Hughes died in hospital two days later, mere days shy of his 26th birthday, per the BBC.

In his final moments before the fatal accident, Hughes had a chat with his coach, Darren Berry. As Berry recalled in The Geelong Advertiser, he praised the talented young cricketer before the match, telling him, "Little man, you are on today, make it a big one." Subsequently, Hughes spoke his heartbreaking final words before heading onto the field: "It's tough out there coach, it's exactly how I like it, they are not getting me today." Berry said of Hughes' utterance to him, "Those words both comfort and haunt me. ... Little did I know it would be the last time I would speak with him."

Did Diego Maradona know the end was near?

Famed for being a larger than life character, Argentine soccer icon Diego Maradona's death was at once a shock and an inevitability, given his love for a rock 'n roll lifestyle. In his heyday, Maradona had a notorious penchant for cocaine and utilized the infamous "hand of God" (essentially a hand ball, which is banned in soccer) at the 1986 World Cup quarter final against England, eventually winning for Argentina.

In 2020, the soccer legend died, aged 60. As The Sun reports, Maradona woke up with a sickly pallor and attempted to eat breakfast. After a few bites, he returned to bed and muttered the words "I don't feel well," before falling unconscious. He was believed to have died from pulmonary edema, caused by heart failure. Maradona's doctor, Dr. Cahe, was concerned by the circumstances surrounding his patient's death. "I'm in a state of complete commotion," he said on a news program in Argentina (via The Sun). "I've had so many ups and downs with Diego for 33 years and he's just died in an unusual way."

It turned out that Maradona's admission of feeling unwell proved rather ominous. In 2022, it was alleged that he died due to medical negligence. Per Sky News, eight medical professionals who treated the soccer star were set to be tried for simple homicide, i.e. taking a life with intent. Weeks before he died, Maradona had surgery for subdural haematoma; subsequently, prosecutors claim that doctors, nurses, and a psychologist made dangerous "omissions" that led to his demise.

If you or anyone you know is struggling with addiction issues, help is available. Visit the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration website or contact SAMHSA's National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357).

Aaron Hernandez's haunting final message

NFL star Aaron Hernandez's life and career took a shocking turn when he was charged with murder in 2013. With a glittering future ahead of him, Hernandez was at the height of his popularity, with a $40 million, five-year contract extension with the New England Patriots at the time of his arrest, per Fox Business. As such, his behavior made little sense.

Prosecutors alleged that Hernandez murdered his friend, Odin Lloyd, in 2013. Accordingly, the Patriots fired Hernandez, effectively ending his professional football career. Two years later, he was found guilty of murder in the first degree and received a life sentence in prison without parole, as The Guardian reports. He was also accused of killing two men in a drive-by, though he was acquitted in 2017, per the Boston Herald.

As he sat in jail for the remainder of his life, Hernandez wrote a number of letters to his loved ones. In his book "Unnecessary Roughness: Inside the Trial and Final Days of Aaron Hernandez" (via the New York Post), the athlete's lawyer, Jose Baez, published his client's letters, which are at times incoherent and erratic in nature. In one of his final letters, written a day before he died, Hernandez wrote, "I want you to know you have me forever like you never understood and time will reveal that I'm not perfect but my love and loyalty is like you've never seen!" The following day, Hernandez died by suicide. He was 27.

If you or anyone you know is having suicidal thoughts, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline by dialing 988 or by calling 1-800-273-TALK (8255)​.

Shad Gaspard fought to save his son's life

Famous for being one half of the WWE tag team Cryme Tyme along with JTG, Shad Gaspard rose to prominence as a wrestler in the mid 2000s, though he later acknowledged that the depiction of the duo, a parody of stereotypical "gangstas," was racially insensitive. Following his stint with the WWE, Gaspard went on to enjoy an acting career, showcasing his aptitude for comedy in the sitcom "The Exes" and the movie "Get Hard," where Will Ferrell challenged the 6'7" wrestler to a fight. He also found himself generating headlines away from the ring. In 2016, Gaspard skillfully apprehended a robber who pulled a BB gun on him at a convenience store — and even schooled the would-be thief on his bad manners, per TMZ. That wasn't the only heroic act attributed to the wrestler, however.

In 2020, Gaspard and his 10-year-old son got caught in a rip tide while enjoying a day at the beach in Los Angeles, per E! News. While his son survived, Gaspard sadly got submerged by the tide and was declared missing thereafter. His body was found three days later, per Sky News. He was 39. 

As NBC News reports, Gaspard's final utterance was a desperate plea. When a lifeguard attempted to rescue both Gaspard and his child, the wrestler called out, "Save my son," before being engulfed by the current. "Shad was and will always be our real-life superhero," his wife, Siliana, said.

Shane Warne went out doing what he loved

Australian cricketer Shane Warne was a legend of the game. The Baron of Baked Beans, as he was sometimes called, was a zany and larger than life figure, living life to the full as he indulged in his favorite meal of pizza and baked beans (as his moniker suggests), dated Hollywood stars like Elizabeth Hurley, and even played poker at the World Series in Las Vegas — though the latter venture didn't quite have a happy ending, with Warne losing thousands of dollars in chips.

Warne's outlandish behavior earned him legendary status, but sadly his reign as living legend would come to an abrupt end. In 2022, Warne died suddenly while on vacation in Thailand, aged 52, per Sky News. The retired sportsman had been complaining of chest pains shortly before his tragic demise and it's believed he may have suffered a heart attack.

Warne's friend, Tom Hall, recalled his final moments in The Sporting News. That night, the pals had dinner and the cricketer indulged in his final meal. In typical Warnie style, he chose Vegemite on toast, an Australian delicacy. As he tucked into his food, Warne quipped, "Geez, you can't beat Vegemite with some butter, always great wherever you are in the world." That was the last time Hall would see Warne alive. "What a player. What a man," Hall reflected. "The word legend is used too lightly these days, but he is and always will be a legend. He was simply the best."

Dale Earnhardt believed he had his whole life ahead of him

At the time of his death, Dale Earnhardt was a legend of the Nascar circuit. Accordingly, the racing superstar is widely regarded as one of the greatest drivers in auto sport history. As noted by ABC News, Earnhardt was often eerily prophetic when it came to his death. "If I ever get killed in a race car... I don't want nobody crying and moaning and groaning... It's what I love to do, and don't worry about it," racer Sterling Marlin recalled him saying.

In 2001, Earnhardt, by then a Nascar veteran at 49, was set to compete at the Daytona 500. Before he prepared himself for the race, he gave an interview with MRN, which would prove his last. Host Winston Kelley remarked that Earnhardt represented senior citizens who loved the sport. "Easy now, I'm not 50 yet," Earnhardt joked. "Just take it easy, guys. You know, I got a lot of years of racing left... When I go to start sitting on the porch a little more, then, you know, you talk about me being a senior citizen." Sadly, Earnhardt never would become a senior citizen; his life would end there and then.

In the final lap, Earnhardt crashed into a wall after bumping with Marlin's car, per ESPN. Earnhardt had to be cut out of his car, but his injuries were too severe and it was determined that he had been killed instantly. His name lives on through his son, Dale Earnhardt Jr., who is also a Nascar racer.

Duncan Edwards' devastating last words

The Munich air disaster was one of the worst soccer tragedies in history, ending the careers of several of the most promising young British players of the time. On February 6, 1958, the Manchester United soccer team, dubbed the Busby Babes, were flying back from Belgrade when the plane had to land in Munich to refuel, per The Guardian. However, weather conditions were poor and led to delays in takeoff. After departure, the plane crashed and killed 23 people, including eight Man United players. Although many of the Busby Babes were killed instantly, some of the players were left with life-changing injuries, per The Belfast Telegraph.

Duncan Edwards was one such survivor; he suffered catastrophic trauma and was transported to a hospital. There, he was visited by his mom, Sarah Anne, per the Mirror. As he lay gravely wounded, Edwards turned to his mother in a daze and, tragically, remarked, "Come on, Mum, get me home quick. We're playing Wolves on Saturday and I can't miss that." The 21-year-old died of his injuries 15 days later.

"He fought for his life... He really fought. He was strong but, in the end, his injuries were too much," Sarah Anne said. Although she acknowledged that her son could have been saved with modern medicine, he wouldn't have had the ability to play soccer anymore. "And I don't think he could have lived with that," she conceded. A statue was erected in Edwards' honor in his hometown of Dudley, unveiled by his mom as well as soccer legend and crash survivor Bobby Charlton.