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They say, the tongues of dying men,

Enforce attention, like deep harmony:

Where words are scarce, they are seldom spent in vain.
Richard II by William Shakespeare, Act II, Scene i.

Bob is dying. As his last hours on this earth approach, he calls for his daughter Alice to come to his bedside so he can give her an important message before he passes on. Once Alice arrives, there are multiple possibilities as to what Bob may tell her:

  1. A major character revelation, such as the fact that he's her long-lost father presumed dead all those years ago.
  2. A piece of information vital to advancing the plot, like the location of the blueprints for the secret weapon he was developing for the government.
  3. A secret from his long-dead past that he feels he needs to get off his chest. May overlap with either of the above two.

If the work is a comedy or Bob is a right bastard, he may take the opportunity to deliver a parting shot along the lines of "I never really liked you anyway!"

A Last Request, related to the confession, may follow

Then, having spoken his last words on earth, Bob will suffer from one last fit of his Incurable Cough of Death and give up the ghost.

Overlaps considerably with Famous Last Words and Final Speech. Differs from a Facing the Bullets One-Liner in that the latter is generally spoken under duress, while this occurs in a (relatively) peaceful setting.

Avoid real life examples. Many celebrities have accumulated any number of myths and rumors of Deathbed Confessions. Like Darwin[1]. And probably Hitler and Stalin. And probably Jay Leno. Even though he isn't dead.

As this is a Death Trope, the usual spoiler disclaimer applies.

Examples of Deathbed Confession include:


Anime and Manga

  • Kriem from Tiger and Bunny gives one to Barnaby befoe commiting suicide via cutting off her own life support.
  • Nicole from Rose of Versailles explains the truth of Rosalie's origins as she lays dying after being hit by a carriage. For even more irony, iut turns out that the woman who wnet in said carriage... was Rosalie's birth mom.


Comics

  • Judge Fargo from Judge Dredd has a Deathbed Confession in which he tells Dredd that he was wrong to create the Justice System and that he felt that he had killed America.
  • This happens in the first Killraven story from Marvel.


Film

  • Judge Dredd: After Judge Fargo is mortally wounded, he confesses to the title character that both Dredd and Rico were genetically engineered and are actually brothers (of a sort).
  • Star Wars Episode VI: Return of the Jedi: Just before he dies, Yoda tells Luke that he must confront Darth Vader before he can become a Jedi and that there is another Skywalker.
  • In August Rush, as he's dying, Lyla's father confesses that the son she'd thought had died in utero was really alive, and he'd secretly given the child up for adoption so Lyla could continue her career as an esteemed musician. WOW.
  • Variant (as it's only a close call) happens in Almost Famous, as the plane goes through a thunderstorm. The new manager hit a man in Michigan, the former one embezzled some of the band's money, the guitarist and the singer slept with each other's wives, William confessed his love for Penny and the drummer says his only line: "Fuck it! I'm gay!"


Humor

  • A man confesses on his deathbed to his wife / business partner that he embezzled their life savings / pension fund. His wife / partner replies, "It's OK, dear / pal, I already knew that. That's why I poisoned you."


Literature

  • In Eragon, Brom tells Eragon on his deathbed that he's a former Dragon Rider.
  • The entirety of Edgar Alan Poe's "The Cask of Amontillado" was one of these.
  • In a somewhat bitter example, in The Belgariad, Olban, dying in the series's major battle, confesses to his father Brand that he had once tried to assassinate King Belgarion. Brand disowns him on the spot and walks out.
  • In Oliver Twist, Old Sally tells Mrs. Corney that she stole some jewelry (namely, a locket and a ring) from Oliver's mother, Agnes Fleeming, right after she fell victim to Death by Childbirth. Sally dies begging Mrs. Corney to give the jewels to Oliver; she instead gives them to his half-brother Edward aka Monks, who throws them to the Thames river.
  • In El Filibusterismo, Simoun reveals his past as Juan Crisostomo Ibarra and what happened in the 13 year time skip between this book and its prequel, to Padre Florentino as he dies from intentionally ingested poison.


Live Action TV

  • In the Doctor Who episode "Gridlock", The Face of Boe tells the Doctor "You Are Not Alone" in reference to The Master still existing trillions of years into the future as Professor Yana.
  • In HBO's Rome Gaia confesses to Pullo on her deathbed that she killed Eirene to be with him. Pullo is not amused and strangles her to death.
  • Mocked on Frasier when Martin pretends to give one regarding some stolen money he recovered on a bust (I think), but "dies" mid-sentence -- Niles was recording a video for future generations.
  • An old woman attempts this in Desperate Housewives, trying to reveal some dark secret to her grand-niece. But she gets interrupted by the girl's mother and the woman dies before ever getting to tell the truth.
  • An episode of Law and Order begins with a mugging that leads to a shootout that ends with a deathbed confession to a murder. Fontana, who convicted someone of the crime, doesn't take it well.
  • As you would expect given their tendencies for deceit and paranoia, the Cardassian people have an entire ritual devoted to this known as the Shri-tal. A Cardassian near death will tell all of their closely-held secrets to a family member, so that those secrets may be used against their enemies.


Video Games

  • Saul Karath in Knights of the Old Republic uses his last words to undermine Carth's fragile trust in his companions by letting him know his Heterosexual Life Partner (if you're playing male) or Love Interest (if playing female) is Revan. Nastier because Saul was the one who broke Carth's ability to trust in the first place...
  • Soap in Modern Warfare 3 reveals to Price that Makarov knows Yuri before he dies.

Western Animation

  • Batman obtains one from a dying criminal that relates to his parents' murder near the beginning of the Batman the Brave And The Bold episode "Chill of the Night". He does by posing as a priest performing the last rites, and the episode makes no effort to hide the questionable morality of such an act (it's an early clue that Batman's quest for vengeance is leading him toward a slippery slope).


Fan Fiction

Notes

  1. "Lady Hope" claimed to have heard a recantation of his theory of evolution. It is unconfirmed.
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