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Deathbed Confession

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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:

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  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. The subverted version is usually a Not-So-Final Confession (the character erroneously thinks he's dying but remains very much alive to deal with the aftermath of the confession).

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In evidence law, such a confession (or anything said while dying, really), is a dying declaration. Dying declarations are not subject to the usual rules of hearsay, and can thus be admissible when they otherwise wouldn't be. The theory behind this is that nobody about to die would have a reason to lie, would they?

Avoid real-life examples. Many celebrities have accumulated any number of myths and rumors of Deathbed Confessions. Putting words in someone's mouth is always more popular after they can't deny the statement.

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


Examples

    open/close all folders 

     Anime and Manga 
  • Kriem from Tiger & Bunny gives one to Barnaby before committing suicide by 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, it turns out that the woman who was in said carriage... was Rosalie's birth mom.
  • Ooku: The Inner Chambers:
    • By technicality, Hisamichi did live a month or two after this confession, but given that this was her last conversation with Yoshimune before her death, the trope still applies in spirit. In their final conversation, Hisamichi admitted that she poisoned Yoshimune's older sisters and the closest rival to the throne to ensure that Yoshimune became shogun. It's not entirely clear how Yoshimune took the news but the parting was certainly amicable enough.
    • On his deathbed Ienari admitted to his wife that he was behind the historical record of him being a crazy spendthrift lecher, in order to hide any mention of the Redface Pox from foreigners who would take advantage of that to invade Japan.
  • In Digimon Frontier, Kouichi is told by his dying grandmother that his parents divorced and he has a twin brother named Kouji, which prompts him to seek him out.

    Ballads 

    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.
  • In the Golden Age Captain Marvel stories, Billy is called to the deathbed of his childhood nurse, Sarah Primm, who tells him that he has a twin sister who was adopted by another family after his parents died. She gives him half of a locket, explaining that his sister has the rest of it. Almost immediately he realizes a girl he just met, Mary Bromfield, was wearing the other half, and she winds up becoming Mary Marvel.

    Fan Works 

    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.
  • A variant happens in Almost Famous (it's only a close call), as the plane goes through a thunderstorm. The new manager committed a hit-and-run 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!"
  • In Disney's version of The Three Musketeers, Milady de Winter tells Athos what she knows about the assassination plot against the King moments before her execution. While the information she shared was not about herself, it was symbolic in her bringing her soul clean and becoming the woman she was when married to Athos.
  • Double Indemnity's story is narrated by the mortally wounded Neff In Medias Res as he confesses to the murder of Dietrichson.
  • In the New Zealand/Wales-produced dramedy film Old Scores, a rugby match in 1966 between Wales and New Zealand is won by Wales in a controversial manner. The rugby touch judge confesses on his deathbed that he made an error that decided the original match in favour of Wales. As a result, a rematch is agreed, using the very same players from 25 years earlier. Both hilarity and drama ensue.
  • At the end of Whatever Happened To Baby Jane, a dying Blanche reveals that her sister Jane didn't cripple her. She did it to herself when she got into an accident trying to kill Jane. This ended up being a famous Twist Ending.
  • Interstellar. As he's dying, Professor Brand admits to Murph that Plan A (find a means of controlling gravity so Mankind can be moved en masse to another planet) was a Motivational Lie, and that Plan B (send astronauts with a human seed bank to establish humanity anew) was always the intent of the mission. Murph is devastated by the news, thinking (incorrectly) that her father (the pilot of the mission) deliberately abandoned her to die on a doomed Earth.

    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.
  • 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.
  • In The Secret of Platform 13, Nanny Brown writes her grandson, Ben, a letter while she's in the hospital, which the nurses give him after she dies. It reveals her part in Mrs. Trottle's kidnapping plot, and that Ben, rather than Raymond, was the kidnapped child, and thus the real Prince.
  • Played with in Black Man. Marsalis and Ertekin exchange confessions as the latter is on her deathbed, but it's played as a trust moment between the two of them rather than guilt.
  • In Nobody's Girl (and its anime rendition, The Story of Perrine), Perrine's dying mother Marie tells her daughter that her father Edmond and her grandfather Vulfran parted ways bitterly after the grandpa's Parental Marriage Veto, so she cannot expect to be warmly received by Vulfran and his family. Perrine decides to go anyway so she can at least try meeting him and forging her own path.
  • At the beginning of The Twelve Chairs, a dispossessed Russian noblewoman on her deathbed tells her son-in-law that she had hidden many of the family jewels inside one of their dining room chairs shortly before the revolution, setting said son-in-law on a quest crisscrossing across the entire Soviet Union to track down the now-scattered chairs in hopes of finding them.
  • A Song Of Ice And Fire, as it does with many tropes, plays with this one. With Hoster Tully dying slowly, his maester has given him milk of the poppy to help with the pain. With relatively little to do, Catelyn has taken to spending time with him, even though he's delirious. One of the things he repeats is "tansy", and apologies. Knowing tansy is a flower smallfolk sometimes name their daughters for, Catelyn assumes he must be remembering some common girl he had an affair with but had to break the heart of. It's not until she remembers that tansy is also a key ingredient in moon tea (basically a drink to induce an abortion) that she realizes he must have forced Lysa to take moon tea so she wouldn't birth a bastard. But even she doesn't realize it was Petyr's child and it was lamenting the lost child of her beloved that would motivate Lysa to murder Jon Arryn and help Petyr start the War of Five Kings.

    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 Pullo's wife Eirene to be with him. Pullo is not amused, strangling her to death and dumping her body in the river. To the Ancient Romans, this was a way of damning someone. Without proper funeral rites, their soul would be unable to enter the underworld and they would be stuck in limbo for all eternity.
  • Mocked on Frasier when Martin pretends to give one regarding some stolen money he recovered on a bust, 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 & 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.
  • An episode of Law & Order: Special Victims Unit centered on a terminally ill man giving the detectives clues to crimes he committed before he became a Reformed Criminal. It's actually a ploy to get his estranged daughter to visit him one last time. The man killed his old partner because the partner murdered a woman and was about to kill a baby. Afterwards, he and his wife adopted the baby girl but never told her the truth. The dying man does not really feel sorry for any of this until he discovers that an innocent man was convicted for the murder the partner committed and spent more than twenty years in jail as a result. He then makes a full confession to everything so the detectives can use it to free the innocent man from jail.
  • Happens in Logan's final episode on Law & Order: Criminal Intent. A priest takes a deathbed confession from a man who admits he committed a murder for which another man was convicted. Unfortunately for the investigation, the priest can't tell Logan any of the details, which makes it considerably more difficult.
  • Star Trek: Deep Space Nine: 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. It was also used by Enabran Tain and Garak to openly acknowledge their secret father/son relationship for the first time in Garak's life - Tain's confession? He was proud of Garak, after all.
  • Merlin: Inverted in the finale when Arthur is dying and Merlin confesses to him that he is a sorcerer.
  • The Professionals. The episode "Everest Was Also Conquered" starts with the former head of MI6 saying "I killed Suzie Carter" on his deathbed. Suzie Carter was a witness at a 1953 corruption inquiry who supposedly committed suicide. This causes a series of murders as the other conspirators race to cover up their involvement.
  • Oz.
    • After a criminal on Death Row has his final appeal rejected, he calmly confesses to a bunch of other murders, revealing that he is, in fact, a Serial Killer.
    • Played for Black Comedy when Shirley Bellinger tells Warden Glynn that the guard leading her off to be executed has been "coming into my cell every night and fucking me."
  • Taggart. In "Forbidden Fruit" a doctor decides to drown himself after being exposed as a fraud. His wife sees the overturned boat and rushes into the house to call for help, only to find him inside dripping wet. Things probably would have worked out if he hadn't forgotten about the written confession he left behind, in which he confessed to murdering the Victim of the Week.
  • In the TV adaptation of Nostromo, the title character after being fatally shot is about to confess that he'd stolen a boatload of silver but Lady Gould hushes him, as Nostromo has always taken pride in his incorruptible reputation.
    Lady Gould: It was lost at sea.
  • Played for laughs on Quark. Before beaming down to a planet on an apparent suicide mission, Captain Quark asks his identical Bridge Bunnies to finally tell him which one is really the clone. As usual they each point at the other. "She is!"
  • In Game of Thrones, right after Olenna Tyrell poisoned herself on Jaime's orders, she confesses to Jaime that she was the one to poison Joffrey, Cersei and Jaime's son/nephew, and demanded that Jaime tells Cersei she confessed. Fans quickly declared this a Dying Moment of Awesome.
  • One episode of Murphy's Law had the plot kicked off by an unusual variant. An old man serving a life sentence collapsed of a heart attack, and before he died he was able to whisper to the prison chaplain that he hadn't committed one of the murders he was sent to prison for. Since it was literally the last words the man spoke before he died there was no reason to believe he was lying, so Murphy gets the unenviable task of finding the real killer.

    Mythology And Religion 
  • In Catholicism, the faithful are instructed to confess their sins to a Priest so that they can be granted absolution and so their soul can be unburdened by sin note . Catholics who are in very poor health or who are dying are highly encouraged to make a confession so can go to Heaven when they die. If someone has a serious sin on his conscience then a deathbed confession can be a Last-Second Chance to save his soul.

    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.

     Web Original 
  • Super Kami Guru tries making one of these when he thinks he's dying in Dragon Ball Z Abridged confessing that he had instigated the genocide of the albino Namekians to cover up the fact that he had drunk the entire water supply. Then it turns out he wasn't dying after all. The Namekians soon change that.

    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).
  • In The Simpsons "Forgive and Regret", Abe Simpson suffers an accident and thinks he's going to die. He confesses to Homer that he threw the pie recipes and advice to Homer that his mother Mona left for him over a cliff. Abe, however, recovers, meaning he gets to live to face the anger Homer and the rest of the family feel over this revelation. Abe eventually comes to the conclusion that deathbed confessions don't actually help much since they don't actually undo the bad deed. So he risks his life to try and recover the recipes he threw over that cliff years ago.


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