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Never Speak Ill of the Dead

Death creates a prejudice in favor of the deceased ... I should like to find someone who knew Elizabeth Barnard and who does not know that she is dead! Then, perhaps, I should hear what is useful to me — the truth.

Regardless of how disliked or embarrassing a person was in life, no matter how odd they were considered, or what crimes they had committed, the moment they leave this mortal coil, a Nostalgia Filter falls into place causing the deceased to be remembered as being better than they were, for the most part. For some people, the reasoning is that the dead person isn't here to defend themselves anymore, or at the very least cannot continue to do the unpleasant things they were reviled for anymore.

An Asshole Victim can be "spared" this provided they were enough of an asshole. Alternatively, can be a justification for Alas, Poor Scrappy.

Villains, particularly ones at the lighter end of the Sliding Scale of Antagonist Vileness, will sometimes extend the same courtesy to fallen heroes (particularly ones they regarded as a Worthy Opponent).

Definitely Truth in Television, as the idea has been around since at least the 4th century. Whether or not it should be is rather contentious. Plenty of people seem to deride it for those they hate but invoke it for public figures they like. An alternative formulation, suggested by Christopher Hitchens (who loved speaking ill of the dead) is: "Never say anything nasty about the dead that you weren't brave enough to say while they were alive. Everything else is fair game."

See also Treachery Coverup, Unacceptable Targets and Dead Artists Are Better. If people choose to lie to preserve the departed's reputation, they're using The Power of Legacy.

Contrast with Speak Ill of the Dead for the serious version and The Fun in Funeral for less serious ones.

This is a Death Trope, so expect UNMARKED SPOILERS!


Examples:

    open/close all folders 

     Anime and Manga  
  • Averted in Rave Master. When Reina dies, Joker politely suggests this to Lucia. He responds by smacking her down and telling her he doesn't really care about the feelings of dead people. Of course, Lucia is a jerk.
  • In Seto no Hanayome, everyone believes Mikawa to have a deadly disease, so they promptly all start talking about how awesome he is, even having a "Mikawa Appreciation Party". Mikawa, of course, is oblivious to that fact, and thinks he's just that awesome.
  • Parodied in an early episode of Tenchi Universe, when Tenchi thinks Ryoko has been killed (she's actually not even injured) and says "She was such a good person. Well, not really, but..."
  • In YuYu Hakusho shortly after Yusuke's Heroic Sacrifice pushing a little boy out of the way of a car, a couple of his classmate's, due to his reputation of being a Jerk Ass, were cracking jokes that he was actually attempting to shove the kid down. One of Yusuke's teachers overhears this and chews them out for being insensitive.

    Comedy 
  • George Carlin referred to this phenomenon in a routine on his album On the Road:
    Hey, when you die, you get more popular than you've ever been in your whole life. You get more flowers when you die than you ever got at all. They all arrive at once, too late. And people say the nicest things about you! They'll make shit up if they have to! "Oh yeah, he was an asshole, but a well-meaning asshole." "Yeah, poor Bill is dead." "Yeah, poor Bill is dead." "Poor Tom is gone." "Yeah, poor Tom." "Poor John died." "Yeah, John." "What about Ed?" "Naw, Ed, that motherfucker, he's still alive, man! Get 'im outta here!"

     Comic Books  
  • Thunderbird in the X-Men. He died tragically in his second mission with the team, and it was pretty hard on them because they had never really suffered a loss before. For some reason it made them all forget how he badmouthed the rest of the team, was surly all the time, participated with an extreme form of Teeth-Clenched Teamwork, and probably would have ultimately been a negative influence on the group had he not died.
    • Wow, being that accomplished a Jerk Ass after just one mission? The guy had talent!
    • Not to mention that his death was a result of his own hot-headedness.
      • That said, in the Chaos Wars event, when some of the dead X-Men were temporarily resurrected he did call himself out on being a smug jerk and barely contributing anything to the team. His personality improved dramatically and successfully led his team against the Chaos King's minion. When his time was up, he was truly grateful for the short time he had back on Earth.
  • Stephanie Brown's father was a super villain who died on a mission with the Suicide Squad. Steph got kind of mad that her mom was willing to forgive him posthumously. We later find out that the reason he joined the Suicide Squad was try to make his daughter proud of him. He later turns up alive though, mourning the death of his daughter. Who also didn't really die.
  • Subverted in a tie-in for Marvel's Shadowland event. At Bullseye's funeral, there's a crowd of people and a Priest saying how Bullseye was ahero and saint. Though we quickly find out the priest is just being forced to say this by a biker gang(The only people who were genuinely in mourning).
  • Discussed in the MAD parody of The Lion King, in which after Simba tells everyone to not speak well of Scar, The Simpsons say that people spoke well of Richard Nixon after his death. When Michael Jackson's death was declared stupidest event of the year, the article criticized the media for canonizing him as a saint.
  • Averted in the Chick Tracts, in which the Christians witnessing to people will frequently tell them that unsaved people who died recently are in hell (although they will often note that it's not because of anything they did, but because they didn't accept Christ).
  • Played straight with Professor X. After dying against Cyclops, everyone put aside that he could be a hypocrite when it came to abusing his powers and at times resorted to a number of morally questionable actions. Instead all the heroes at his funeral and after, were praising what a great guy he was and even Captain America told Cyclops to his face that he killed "one of the most decent men I have ever met". After the Phoenix 5 event, a lot of X-Men (besides Wolverine) and even quite a few Avengers wanted to get a shot at Cyclops for killing Xavier with Hawkeye threatening to shoot Cyclops in the head if he didn't stand down. Justified in that while Xavier did a lot of jerkwad things, he did repent his actions and paid for his actions by going through a humiliation conga line. Plus outside of Doc Samson, he's pretty much the go-to guy for superheroes in need of psychological help - more than a few superheroes had their sanities saved by him.
  • After death of The Sentry he got entire one-shot dedicated topeople talking how fantastic, wonderfull person he was, even through he would spent last year as a pawn of Norman Osborn antagonizing most of the heroes right and left, and directly prior to his death gave up completely to his Superpowered Evil Side, destroyed Asgard, killed Ares (who just pulled Heel-Face Turn) and almost murdered them all. Yet closest we get to anybody saying anything bad about him is Ben Grimm admitting he hated Bob...because Bob was better man than him. Made worse when Rogue reveals she lost her virginity too Sentry. If you keep eye on continuity (Sentry was said to have gotten married around the time Reed Richard and Sue Storm did, Rogue showed up much later) it means he cheated on his wife with her. After that Mr. Fantastic saying he was the greatest of them all seems jarring.
  • Averted in Runaways, after Nico confess she tried (and failed) to ressurect Alex - Chase calls her on it and Nico doesn't deny that Alex was horrible for them, but she still doesn't think Alex deserved to die.
  • After Dwayne McDuffie died, DC Comics published one-shot dedicated to him as a tribute. One of the stories had a brutal Take That at editorial, with characters pointing out that the very same people who treated Dwayne like a dirt under their fingers are now acting as if they ever cared about him.

     Fan Fiction 

    Film 
  • Batman (1989). Inverted by the Joker after he kills Antoine Rotelli, a mob boss.
    Joker: You are a vicious bastard, Rotelli. I'm glad you're dead.
  • Hot Shots!! Part Deux. Inverted when Ramada's husband falls to his death while doing something really stupid.
    Topper Harley: He really was a wiener.
    Ramada: Don't get me started.
  • In The Green Mile, after consummate Jerk Ass Percy taunts the corpse of a recently-executed prisoner, he is angrily rebuked by a fellow guard, who says that execution for his crimes makes him "square with the house now".
  • Averted with Tony Stark of The Avengers. While he is clearly extremely upset and has tears in his eyes while staring helplessly at the spot where Coulson died, he bitterly mocks Coulson as an idiot for trying to take on a god without backup, making this more of a How Dare You Die on Me!.
  • Heathers spoofs it mercilessly, as the Alpha Bitch is lovingly remembered by everyone after her death, much to the disgust of her murderer. Because all the mean characters that are killed are subsequently ennobled in death, this drives J.D. to try to blow up the whole school.
  • Subverted in Die Hard with a Vengeance, as Simon agrees with McClane that Hans was an asshole. But "there is a difference between not liking one's brother and not caring when some dumb Irish flatfoot drops him out of a window."
  • Worlds Greatest Dad has a Jerk Ass horrendously perverted son who accidentally dies while masturbating. His father covers this up as a suicide. By the end of the movie, the school library is renamed in his honor.
  • Subverted slightly in Extract when the main character's annoying neighbor dies of a heart attack. Him and his wife are somehow saddened but not broken up since he was a massive pest and start making jokes about him and the mourners, oddly coming off more as their own way of mourning since the wife blames herself for what happened since she chewed him out right when he had his heart attack.
  • The Three Stooges, Brideless Groom; When asked about his Uncle Caleb, Shemp goes into a tirade about what a jerk the old man was. When told that Caleb died and left him a small fortune, Shemp immediately starts a tearful speech on how sweet and charitable he was.

    Literature 
  • In the third Anne of Green Gables book, Anne of the Island, this trope is hilariously called into question by Anne's adopted brother Davy.
    "Mrs. Lynde says we musn't speak ill of the dead. Why musn't we, Anne? It's pretty safe, ain't it?"
    • Miss Cornelia also comments on it two books later in Anne's House of Dreams:
      "Have you ever noticed what heaps of good people die, Anne, dearie? It's kind of pitiful. Here's ten obituaries, and every one of them saints and models, even the men. Here's old Peter Stimson, who has 'left a large circle of friends to mourn his untimely loss.' Lord, Anne, dearie, that man was eighty, and everybody who knew him had been wishing him dead these thirty years."
  • Being a Speaker for the Dead is all about averting it. Orson Scott Card was irritated at the prevalent use of this trope in Real Life funerals and wanted someone to tell the truth about a dead person for once: that the deceased had bad moments as well as good ones. However, it's played more-or-less straight when Ender (in the titular role) finally tells the full truth about a Love Martyr who became a bitter, angry man over the lie he had to live.
    • Specifically, he can't have children. Which makes life with his wife and 5 kids less than stellar.
      • Maybe for the moment, but Novinha is definitely relieved to have this off her shoulders. Besides, Ender ends up marrying her, so the children get a new father. This time, one who understands and cares for them.
      • Unfortunately for Miro and Ouanda, Ender also reveals that they do, in fact, have the same father. It's not entirely clear if they would have made it work, despite the taboos, but Miro's partial paralysis makes the point moot.
      • Ender doesn't hide the fact that Marcos is a wife-beater and a drunk. Card points out that the reason he hated this trope is because people, essentially, reinvent the deceased, which is partly a revenge move to erase who they really were. He specifically mentions a Portuguese woman at a funeral he attended wailing (as per custom) over her terrible (and cheating) husband's body, claiming he was a good husband. Essentially, she was punishing him by erasing him. Ender doesn't say that Marcos was a good man. He points out that he did have admirable qualities, even if they were overshadowed by being a complete asshole to everyone around him.
  • Used by Mark Twain in Tom Sawyer. When he's believed dead, the adults switch from considering him the devil incarnate to considering him Too Good for This Sinful Earth.
  • The page quote above is from The ABC Murders. This is almost immediately subverted by the deceased's sister's next line: "Betty was an unmitigated little ass!"
  • In Dracula, during one of Mina's entries, she recorded a long rant by an old man concerning the practice of this. Remarking the grave (which the girls are close to, having to decide to picnic in the church yard) belong to a sorry sourpuss and wasn't even missed by his "hellcat of a mother."
  • Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows subverts this trope with Albus Dumbledore, who was the previous book's Anyone Can Die victim. After his death, Rita Skeeter jumps on the chance to write about the revelations surrounding the deceased's past, such as his deceased sister and his romantic fling with Gellert Grindelwald, and the deceased's involvement in the creation of Grindelwald's Nazi ideals.. Amazingly, Voldemort uses both angles to his advantage; one to discredit Dumbledore, the other to officially label Harry a possible suspect for the deceased's murder, turning most of the wizarding world against Harry once again and forcing him to go on the run.
    • Harry had to go on the run more because the ministry had been overrun by Death Eaters who were out to kill him than for anything else.
  • Occasionally invoked in jokes for the humor value. One in particular: the nasty brother of a local bully offers to pay the pastor handsomely for this kind of eulogy, with the key words being 'call him a saint'. At the funeral, the pastor blithely inverts this trope, calling to mind every bit of villainy the deceased has committed, then finishes by looking straight at the living brother and declaring "But compared to his brother, he was a saint!"
  • In Percy Jackson and the Olympians, if a half-blood works for the Titans, they're the enemy. If they die, they were either a misguided hero, a victim, or both.
  • In the Star Trek: Deep Space Nine Relaunch, a character informs Nog and Sam Bowers that she mourns for a cadre of Jem'Hadar, or at least most of them: "I miss First, I miss Second, I miss Fourth...I do not miss Third". Upon this last comment, Nog mutters "yeah, good riddance". Bowers elbows him, even though the Founder evidently won't mind, given that she's just stated she didn't like the Third.
  • Averted in The Color Purple, when Mr's sisters are talking to Celie and start criticising Mr's old wife - she was apparently terrible at housework and by the end of her life was having an affair (which was understandable, and also her cause of death). They lampshade it by saying "It's not good to speak ill of the dead, but the truth can never be ill."
  • In Invisible Man, the protagonist, trying to find out what happened to Tod Clifton after he vanished from the Brotherhood, discovers him peddling little paper Sambo dolls on the streets. He witnesses Clifton being caught and shot to death by the police. Deciding that his fallen friend deserves to be remembered in more than a police report, he mobilize Harlem to give Clifton a public funeral. The Brotherhood, however, is incensed that "a traitorous merchant of vile instruments of anti-Negro, anti-minority racist bigotry has received the funeral of a hero."
  • Pinocchio himself invoked this trope when he was forced to fill in for a gardener's deceased guard dog for trying to stealing a few grapes. While on duty, Pinocchio learns that the dog had been accepting bribes from the other animals, letting them steal from the garden and pretending to see nothing. When they offer the same to Pinocchio, he instead alerts the gardener. When the gardener comments about how loyal his dog was, but never seemed to be able to catch them, Pinocchio decides not to tell him the truth about the dog since he's no longer alive to defend himself.
  • In Michael Flynn's The January Dancer, when the Fudir tells Hugh that the assasin had killed Sweeney, Hugh assumes that Sweeney had blocked his way, not pointed out Hugh to him. The Fudir agrees it was so.
  • In the Dune novel, after Paul kills Jamis in a duel, the Fremen refuse to speak ill of Jamis, even though he had a history of violence and unethical behavior. Harah's nonchalant reaction to his death, as well as her sons' jubilant response to having Paul as their new father, suggests that they did not like Jamis. Contrast Harah and her sons' behavior with that of Chani, who openly grieves when her father dies.
    • Another interpretation of Harah's reaction is that the Fremen do not mourn the dead for long and see it as a natural consequence, even if it's death by single combat rather than the environment. (This may be Herbert showing his work: the Middle Eastern cultures from which the Fremen descend tend to have relatively short mourning periods—in Islam, the funeral is supposed to take place either immediately or the day after the person dies, and the actual mourning period is three days—although widows tend to get a few months of mourning, making this somewhat different.)
  • Chanters of Tremaris contains a variant of this in which Calwyn witholds information about someone's Nice Job Breaking It, Hero because she knew the person going to kill themselves that same day, making it more of a Never Speak Ill Of The Soon-to-be Dead. Later, she subverts it by revealing said information when the person in question really is dead.

     Live Action TV  
  • Game of Thrones: Margaery Tyrell tries to invoke this trope when King Joffrey demands to know why she didn't provide an heir to Renly Baratheon while they were married. It doesn't work because Joffrey considers Renly to be a traitor, and therefore isn't deserving of any respect even after death. Margaery then does her best to answer her betrothed's question without being too brusque about Renly's homosexuality, which is considered to be a sin in Westerosi society.
  • On Monk, when Monk goes missing an is presumed dead, the Captain Stottlmyer tearfully says good things about Monk. When Monk turns up alive he however shows his annoyances at Monk's eccentricities.
  • "De mortuis nil nisi bunkum", Harold Laski. There's a sketch on Not The Nine O'Clock News in which two politicians spit bile at each other so fiercely one collapses, and the other immediately switches monologue to 'he was a dear friend...'
    "THIS IS PRECISELY THE KIND OF POLITICIAN... *dies* ...who will be greatly missed."
    • Not The Nine O'Clock News did it again, with Oswald Mosley's death. The papers were so nice about the fascist that they devoted a musical number to Mosley, dressed up as punks, where they actually read out genuine paragraphs from the newspapers' obituaries of him. They all said that he was a charismatic man, a gifted speaker, a philanthropist, et cetera.
  • The Chaser's War On Everything challenged this trope head-on in the form of "The Eulogy Song", citing numerous deceased celebrities as examples of this trope widely in action (although singer Andrew Hansen introduced the song with how his (completely fictitious) asshole of a grandfather was spoken well of at his funeral).
    "But all that was forgotten once he took his final breath... yes, even *HONK* turn into top blokes after death."
    • The best part was watching people who completely missed the satire and blasted the Chaser team for mocking the dead celebrities, especially those who called them cowards because "they wouldn't have said those things had they been alive."
  • Played with a little bit in Torchwood, after Owen dies and then is reanimated.
    Jack: What is with you, Ianto? Ever since Owen died all you've done is agree with him!
    Ianto: My mother taught me never to speak ill of the dead, even if they do most of the talking for themselves.
  • Just Shoot Me!, during the episode "Bye Bye Binnie":
    Dennis: We're all sick of hearing about your drunken, slutty, stupid friend Binnie.
    Nina: My friend Binnie is dead.
    Dennis: Heaven just got another angel.
  • Abby on Dawson's Creek. While alive, she was a Libby-esque bad girl who proved to be a bad influence on a lonely Jen. Then she died, and all of Capeside tried to make her seem like she was really a good person.
  • Happened in an episode of Titus where his abusive Ex died.
  • Played straight in an episode of Reba. Reba and Brock arrive at an old bar expecting to meet their old friend, Terry, with whom there was some bad blood at their last meeting. There his brother informs them that Terry had died. Knowing their old friend's love of pulling pranks, Reba and Brock think it's a joke and yell for Terry to come out.
    Brock: Only the good die young and he wasn't good! So where is he?
    Terry's brother: He's dead.
    Reba: We're so sorry for you loss.
    Brock: He was a good man.
  • Subverted on Chicago Hope: when one of the doctor's father dies, the doctor makes a point of assuring all of the mourners at his funeral that he thought his father was an asshole, refusing to sugarcoat his life just to make them or himself feel better. When he's alone with a friend at his father's graveside, however, he does admit that his father wasn't all bad.
  • Also subverted in the NCIS episode "Driven": when the death of a Navy lieutenant is believed to be a suicide, one of the men investigating insults her for her perceived cowardice.
  • Parodied in Yes, Prime Minister; Prime Minister Hacker's predecessor in that office is writing his memoirs, which will be very embarrassing for Hacker, when he suddenly drops dead from a heart attack. When Hacker learns the news, and just before he remembers that he's supposed to act with dignified shock and grief, for a moment he has the biggest, happiest grin we've ever seen on his face. He manages to wipe it off sufficiently to deliver a suitably grave 'initial reaction', but later cheerfully comments that most of the dignitaries who will show up to his state funeral are only going to show up to make sure he's dead.
  • The death of Judge Carl Robertson in The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air subverted this. Despite humiliating Phil in an election, he agrees to do his eulogy. Phil and Will tries to do this trope, but just about everyone at his funeral has bones to pick with him and all express how they're glad he's dead. Will eventually chastises everyone for speaking ill of the dead. One of them asks who he is and Will responds that he's the one who killed him (Robertson died from a heart attack immediately after Will told him to "drop dead"). Everybody claps. Will eventually gives up, saying "tough crowd".
  • Subverted in Misfits. After Nathan has just died for the first time (and the group do believe him to be permanently dead), Simon raises a toast "to Nathan" during the wake. Curtis simply raises his glass and says: "prick." No one objects. While they are all saddened by Nathan's seeming death, they clearly aren't about to forget what an almighty Jerk Ass he could be.
  • Frasier and Niles' mother Hester is often remembered in the best possible light by them (and Martin) as a compassionate, considerate, cultured and down to earth woman. There is the occasional hint that this view is not entirely accurate; she had a brief affair, it is sometimes implied that her method of raising the boys was ultimately damaging to them, and (if her appearance on Cheers is anything to go by) she could be outright hostile to Frasier's love interests. However, it's also made clear that, regardless of her faults, she was a loving mother and wife to her family, which explains why they choose to remember her fondly.
    • Martin would even work to preserve this trope even to his own detriment. In regards to the afore-mentioned affair, at first he allowed Frasier and Niles to think it was he who cheated so as not to besmirch his dead wife's image.
    • Frasier also struggles with this when he has to give the eulogy for his Aunt Louise; everyone in the family agrees she was mean-spirited and overcritical, but he doesn't want to badmouth her at the funeral or outright lie. He ends up engaging in some Exact Words, and then segues into a song his Dad wrote to Frank Sinatra.
  • When Mystery Science Theater 3000 spoofed Overdrawn at the Memory Bank (a terrible made-for-public-television movie), made no jokes at the expense of star Raul Julia, who died three years before (though they did pun off of his name and reference his body of work. Mad Scientist Pearl even calls him a "very fine actor".
  • In the Star Trek: The Next Generation episode "The Schizoid Man", the Insufferable Genius scientist named Ira Graves dies. During his funeral, Data (of all people) starts eulogizing him with such grand statements such as "those who knew him loved him". Not only is it weird that Data is being emotional, but also because the man was only, possibly, loved by one person and behaved like an asshole to everyone else. Since Data is an emotionless android, it's unnatural for him to lie so openly. Of course, it turns out it was really Graves himself, who has managed to upload his consciousness into Data's positronic brain.
  • Spoofed in an Imagine Spot in a Scrubs episode. JD imagines his own wake, during which Cox finally says he loved him. At which point, JD jumps up and declares he was faking his death just to hear this. Cox then kills him for real.
  • Boyd Crowder in Justified adheres to this. Despite Bo Crowder's countless evil actions in life (including killing Boyd's followers and ordering Johnny to brutally beat Boyd), Boyd speaks of his late father respectfully. Boyd also speaks of the late Devil as a friend, even though he was forced to kill Devil in self-defense.
    • After Coover's death, Hotrod makes a point of praising his skills at marijuana cultivation.
  • Played hilariously straight in The Bob Newhart Show, when a hated member of Dr. Hartley's group session dies suddenly, and the rest of the group(who were voting to have him kicked out of the group) were suddenly in mourning for him.
  • Subverted in an episode of M*A*S*H, involving Hawkeye investigating how a dead soldier managed to have a large wad of money on him. When Hawkeye informed the other soldiers in his squad of his death, one asked, "Which side got him, theirs or ours?" Turned out the deceased had conned and hustled most of his fellow soldiers to the point where he was openly despised, even after his death.
  • Applied to an entire species in Doctor Who. During the classic series, the Doctor was frequently critical of the other Time Lords' complacent, bureaucratic society. Then the Time War happened in the gap before the revival and he became the Last of His Kind. After five years (for us) of guilt and nostalgia, the Doctor was faced with the prospect of the Time Lords actually coming back - and immediately grabbed a gun, admitting he'd been choosing to remember the best of them. Turns out the War made them even worse...
  • Used at first in the finale of House in the title character's funeral, until Wilson starts showering him with (mostly accurate) insults. This doesn't last long, though; House, who is not really dead and was somehow listening, calls Wilson to insult him
  • During the election on Parks and Recreation, Leslie criticized her Upper-Class Twit opponent's father for being the Corrupt Corporate Executive he is. Unbeknownst to Leslie, her opponent's father had died earlier that day and her campaign spends the rest of the episode dealing with the political fallout.
  • Discussed in an episode of LOST.
    Helen: Don't knock the obits. It's the nicest part of the paper. No one ever says anything mean about people once they're dead.
    Locke: Mm. Now here I am thinking the funnies are the nicest part of the paper.
  • A variation in The Sopranos; Tony once notes that despite the hostility his mother held for his father when he was alive, she's viewed him as a saint ever since his death. Livia, however, is mostly directly invoking the idea for manipulative persons (usually comparing Tony to his father to himself or somebody else, or calling herself a victim for being deprived of him and stuck with the living).
  • After the death of Fiona Goode, the other witches of the coven describe her as a "great Supreme", "a lot to live up to" and "one of the best", even though she plotted to murdered all of them. Subverted by her own daughter, Cordelia, who acknowledges she was the worst thing to ever happen to the coven.
  • Played for Laughs in Wanda At Large. When Wanda plans to do a feature on a recently deceased councilman, a conservative coworker calls it a liberal hatchet job on a good man who isn't around to defend himself. When she tells him the councilman was a Democrat, he takes it back.

    Music 
  • Styrofoam Plates by Death Cab for Cutie is about the life of a boy raised by a poor single mother, left by her father. Towards the end we get the lines "I won't join the procession that's speaking their peace/Using five dollar words/Whilst praising his integrity/Just 'cause he's gone doesn't change the fact he was/A bastard in life thus a bastard in death."
  • Jon Lajoie's song Michael Jackson is Dead subverts this trope. Jon complains about how the media treated the man like a legend after he died, but were calling him a sick "white Skeletor robot" when he was alive. For this reason, Jon refuses to pretend he cares that Jackson died, instead opting to be consistent.
    Michael Jackson is dead,
    Don't pretend you give a shit
    You motherfucking hypocrites
    Remember what you said he did?
  • Tom Lehrer in "National Brotherhood Week"
    It's fun to eulogize
    The people you despise
    As long as you don't let 'em in your school.
  • "Reconciliation," the setting of a Walt Whitman poem in Dona Nobis Pacem by Ralph Vaughan Williams, describes a man attending his enemy's funeral, calling him a man divine as himself, and even kissing the corpse.

    Theatre 
  • Anna Russell, describing the plot of Richard Wagner's Götterdämmerung: "When Brünnhilde finds out about this, of course, naturally, she's frightfully annoyed, and she plots with Hagen to kill Siegfried. And Hagen kills him. Of course, as soon as he's dead, she's sorry — I know you men are going to say, 'That's so like a woman!'"
  • Parodied in the musical Oklahoma! with the song "Pore Judd is Daid", in which Curly paints a glowing picture of how popular Judd would be if only he would hang himself.
    Judd': Pore Judd is daid, a candle lights his haid, he's layin' in a coffin made of wood...
    Curly: ... wood.
    Judd: And folks is feelin' sad, cuz they use ter treat him bad, an' now they know their friend is gone for good.
    Curly: ... good.
  • In William Shakespeare's Julius Caesar, Marc Antony pretends to invert this, as per his agreement with the assassins not to cast blame upon them:
    Antony: I come to bury Caesar, not to praise him.
    The evil that men do lives after them;
    The good is oft interred with their bones;
    So let it be with Caesar....
    • However, before he's finished, he has the mob howling for the assassins' blood, without ever breaking the letter of the agreement.
  • Invoked in Stephen Sondheim's musical Assassins. During "The Ballad of Booth", the Balladeer implies that aside from believing it would bring the Civil War to an end, one of the reasons John Wilkes Booth killed Abraham Lincoln was because Booth's theater career was failing and he was getting desperate, and taunts him thus:
    And Lincoln, who got mixed reviews,
    Because of you, John, now gets only raves!

    Video Games 
  • There's a short period in Final Fantasy VIII where the party thinks Seifer is dead. Everyone says nice things about him, except Squall, who has a mild freak out triggered by the dissonance between the nearly-unanimous dislike the characters had for Seifer while he was alive and the nice things they say about him after his death.
  • In Persona 4 after the homeroom teacher dubbed "King Moron" by students is killed, two students mention they feel kinda bad. Yosuke claims the victim "was a Capital-A asshole" but that didn't justify the murder.
    • And one of Morooka's acts of Capital-A assholery? Badmouthing Mayumi Yamano and Saki Konishi, who were murdered near the start of the game, saying that their dependency on others was what got them killed.
  • When Manfred von Karma speaks dismissively of Byrne Faraday mere minutes after the latter is found murdered in Ace Attorney Investigations, his partner Detective Badd seems very close to making sure von Karma shares the same fate. This is particularly significant because prosecutors are basically masters and gods to detectives and von Karma in particular could have had Badd fired if he felt like it.
    • In the third case of the first Ace Attorney game, Phoenix approaches Wendy Oldbag suggesting that Jack Hammer, whom she liked, drugged Will Powers and stole his costume. She flies into a rage at the idea of Phoenix speaking ill of the dead, but when Phoenix presents the relevant evidence, she calms down and tells the story behind Hammer's fall from stardom.
    • In Justice For All's second case, Dr. Grey wants Maya to channel the spirit of Mimi Miney, a nurse who once worked for him, so that she can take responsibility for a malpractice incident at his clinic in which 14 people died. He is shown as being completely selfish, especially when he complains about her dying before taking responsibility, but by all accounts, he seems to be correct despite being an unpleasant person.
    • In Investigations 2, Manosuke Naito constantly insults his dead coworker, Gai Tojiro, whom he killed out of jealousy. Most of the people present see this as his Moral Event Horizon crossing.
  • Occurs in Ratchet and Clank 3 when Ratchet is asked to deliver a farewell speech for Captain Qwaak, an ally he really didn't like, namely for trying to get Ratchet killed in his first two adventures, and struggles to find a good thing to say about him to comic effect and to the chagrin of the audience. However, Qwark actually faked his own death to avoid facing Dr. Nefarious.
  • In God Hand, two mooks make wisecracks over their latest victim. Elvis reprimands them via a Megaton Punch. Keep in mind that this is a guy who is strongly implied to eat people.
  • Kratos in Tales of Symphonia gets very angry at Kvar for insulting Lloyd's dead mother, using the trope name verbatim to explain his irritation. This is a fairly thin justification compared to the real reason he's angry, namely that he's Lloyd's father and Kvar is insulting his dead wife.
  • Valkyrie Profile: "They say one should not speak unkindly of the dead...so I say, 'Nice try!'"
  • Assassin's Creed II: Ezio's uncle calls him on this as he's stabbing the corpse of one of his enemies in rage, insulting the now-dead man. After that, though, Ezio learns to be more prudent, and he comforts his targets after he assassinates them, always ending with a "requiescat in pace".
  • In Mafia, our hero guns down a bunch of hoods that planned on raping his girlfriend in one level, then drops in on the funeral of one of them in the next, and calls the priest out on his sanitized epitaph.
  • Subverted in World of Warcraft when Sylvanas mocks a dead ally immediately after rescuing the player party from the same fate. She likewise mocks her own fallen champions for being killed by one of Arthas's lieutenants earlier in the instance.
    • In The Shattering Prelude to Cataclysm, this happens between Garrosh Hellscream and Baine Bloodhoof. The two constantly disagree while Cairne is alive, but after Garrosh kills Cairne in a duel to the death, partly the result of his weapon being poisoned, he laments not being able to defeat him fairly and remembers him as honorable. This exchange between Anduin and Varian averts it.
    Varian: She's going to destroy all that Magni tried to do! All that he... he died for!
    Anduin: There's no spell, Father. Magni wanted to believe there was rather than the truth- that he drove Moira away because she wasn't a male heir.
    Varian: You spit on the memory of an honorable man, Anduin.
    Anduin: You can be an honorable man and still make mistakes.

     Web Comics  
  • Discussed in Bug; the bug thinks it's time we start speaking ill of the dead.
  • Chopping Block lampshades this with one comic where Butch shows up at a funeral.
    Mourner: He will be missed.
    Butch: Oh, bullshit. He was an asshole and you're glad he's dead.
  • O-Chul in The Order of the Stick names the trope when taking responsibility for the gate destroyed by Miko Miyazaki, as by that point it was pretty irrelevant who had done it or why. He needs to use some Exact Words to actually avoid this.
    Hinjo: "I see. Then you were the one who made the decision to destroy the Gate rather than let it fall into Xykon's clutches."
    O-Chul: "I did make that decision, and it was my blade that did the deed. (I shall say no more about it, lest I speak ill of the dead.)"
  • Averted in Suicide for Hire by the Social Darwinist Hunter:
    "We're not making light of your feelings. I am sorry you lost your friend. Hell, I'll go so far as to say he shouldn't have died. But if they're idiots in life, with an idiotic demise, they should not be revered as anything else in death."
  • In Persona 4 TW Chie tries to invoke this trope when Mr. Morooka (aka King Moron) is murdered. Yukiko will have none of it.

     Western Animation  
  • Animaniacs: Walter Wolf fakes his own death to invoke this trope as part of a revenge plot against Slappy Squirrel. She's not fooled, though, and turns his plan against him by going along with the gag.
  • Consciously averted in Beast Wars, where despite dying in a Heroic Sacrifice, Dinobot implores Optimus Primal to tell his story honestly, the bad along with the good.
    • Of course, he was quoting Shakespeare.
    • Averted once before that, also by Dinobot, when Rattrap is presumed dead and everyone else is getting all sentimental about it. "I won't disgrace his memory with lies! He was a stinking, omnivorous pestilence...still, in some perverse way, I will miss him."
  • Played with on Justice League. After an Enemy Civil War, Luthor has Grodd trapped in an airlock:
    Lex Luthor: Goodbye, Grodd. It could have gone the other way.
    Grodd: It really could have, couldn't it?
    Lex Luthor: No, but why speak ill of the dead? * opens the airlock*
  • On the rare occasions Elmer Fudd actually got to shoot Bugs Bunny (or just believed he had), he was instantly remorseful. The most notable instance is "What's Opera, Doc."
    • See also: Anyone else who's ever tried to kill Bugs Bunny, with the possible exception of Yosemite Sam.
  • Deconstructed in the first season finale of Daria; the titular character is amazed at the change of heart that the rest of the cast had towards a particularly unpleasant minor celebrity after his death.
  • In the series finale of Kim Possible, Drakken, who momentarily believes that Kim has been killed, inverts his usual Catch Phrase to declare, "Kim Possible, you really were all that."
  • One Pepper Ann episode had the main character wondering why nobody speaks ill of the dead after a rather nasty old woman in the neighborhood died (made funnier becuase they'd insult her and then Pepper would say the woman was dead and then they'd recall "how sweet" she was).
    • Pointed out explicitly where Pepper Ann's mother is seen calling her a poor, sweet old lady and Pepper Ann points out that in the previous, her mother had called her an awful person. The mother then invokes the trope by name.
    • Then Pepper Ann had a dream where she lied at the woman's funeral (being asked to speak was why she was asking everyone about her in the first place) and called her "kind" and "gentle" and all of the things that people were saying after she was dead. The woman rose form the grave and berated her for it, leading to Pepper Ann taking a third option and finding the real positive aspects of the deceased woman to talk about.
  • One Hey Arnold! episode has everyone expressing grief after Dino Spumoni dies...except his former partner, who expresses that he's glad he's dead. Turned out Dino faked his death.
  • In the final Beavis And Butthead everybody believed that the titular duo were dead (they were not). Stewart and Mr. Van Driessen expressed grief but everybody else were either glad (to the point of having a party) or otherwise indifferent.
  • In the Futurama episode "Calculon 2.0" after Calculon had previously killed himself to upstage actor Langdon Cobb, everyone spoke of what a great loss it was to the entertainment industry and that he was one of the greatest actors who ever lived. Once the crew brings him back to life, everyone prefers his replacement on his show "All My Circiuts" and tells him that he's a hammy washed up actor who can't act. After some coaching from Leela, he gives his most heartfelt performance and then subsequently dies in a freak accident, when he earns the respect of the public and even gets a star on the walk of fame.


Never Say That AgainDialogueNew Speak
NepotismAdministrivia/No Real Life Examples, Please!Nice Character, Mean Actor
Never Say GoodbyeDeath TropesNever Suicide
The Gods Must Be LazyImageSource/WebcomicsNot the Fall That Kills You

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