Groucho Marx? Lord Palmerston? Old Bishop? Söndags-Nisse? Robert Lee Bullard? Anonymous?
Dear Quote Investigator: A famous person lying on their deathbed overheard distraught visitors discussing mortality. The stricken but still lively individual sat bolt upright and declared:
Die? That’s the last thing I’ll do.
This humorously redundant statement has been attributed to U.S. comedian Groucho Marx and U.K. statesman Lord Palmerston. Would you please explore this topic?
Quote Investigator: The phrasing of this quip has evolved over time. Here is a sampling with dates:
1866 Jun 28: Dying was the last thing a man should think about.
1867 Mar 01: As for my dying, that is the last thing I shall do.
1883 May 17: Die, my dear doctor? That’s the last thing I think of doing.
1886 May 22: Die, my dear doctor! That’s the last thing I shall do.
1901 Mar 25: Die? That’s the last thing I’ll do.
1925 Jan 18: Die . . . That is the last thing I intend to do.
1933 Oct 12: The last thing that I intend to do, brethren, is to die.
Lord Palmerston (Henry John Temple) died on October 18, 1865. The quip was attributed to him by March 1, 1867. The context was his retirement and not his deathbed. Lord Palmerston is the leading candidate for crafter of this quip based on current data.
There is one complication. A variant joke was ascribed to an “old Bishop” by June 28, 1866. This date was after Palmerston’s death but before he received credit. Hence, it is possible that an existing anonymous joke was simple reassigned to Palmerston posthumously.
Groucho Marx was born in 1890 and died in 1977. The joke was ascribed to him by 2008. This is very weak evidence, and QI believes the attribution to Groucho is spurious.
Below are selected citations in chronological order.