This Life’s Hard, But It’s Harder If You’re Stupid

John Wayne? Redd Foxx? Robert Mitchum? George V. Higgins? Steven Keats? Eddie Coyle? Jackie Brown?

Dear Quote Investigator: When someone performs a witless or laughably irritating act there is a barbed response that reflects exasperation. Here are three versions:

  • Life is hard. It’s harder when you’re stupid.
  • Life’s hard. It’s harder if you’re stupid.
  • Life is tough. It’s tougher if you’re stupid.

These words have been attributed to the famous actor John Wayne, the prominent comedian Redd Foxx, and the well-known thespian Robert Mitchum. Would you please examine the provenance of this remark?

Quote Investigator: QI and other researchers have found no substantive evidence that John Wayne crafted this saying. The earliest strong match known to QI appeared in the 1971 novel “The Friends of Eddie Coyle” by George V. Higgins.

A character named Jackie Brown who specialized in acquiring guns for fellow criminals employed the line. Brown thought it would be foolish to drive into the woods to meet with two strangers armed with machineguns to perform a transaction. Instead, he told a messenger that the two men should come to him. Emphasis added to excerpts by QI: 1

This life’s hard, but it’s harder if you’re stupid. Now you go and get them, and I’ll be waiting here. When you come back I’ll tell you what to do next. Move.

Below are additional selected citations in chronological order.

Continue reading This Life’s Hard, But It’s Harder If You’re Stupid


  1. 1973 (Copyright 1971), The Friends of Eddie Coyle by George V. Higgins, Quote Page 93, Bantam Books, New York. (Verified with scans)