A Swan Song is the last work a creator created before they died. Usually made while possessing enough foresight to realize that it would be the last thing they will ever make before Author Existence Failure sets in or they retire. It can also be the last performance of an actor. Either way this is for when a creator or thespian decides that if they're gonna stop by choice or not, they they might as well go out with a bang.
Note that this must be on purpose. People die after making works all the time, but few of them have the foresight to know what their last act would be.
This can overlap with Magnum Opus, where the artist puts their all onto it and creates something that exceeds the quality of the previous works, or it can be something that is So Okay, It's Average. Depending on the amount of time between the finishing touches and death, finishing the work can also be a Dying Moment of Awesome.
- Tintin and the Picaros from 1976 would become Hergé's last finished Tintin album, but he still worked on the ultimately unfinished Tintin and the Alph Art until his death in 1983. Hergé was in poor health though, so he always knew that even if he managed to finish that album, it would be the last one.
- From Russia with Love: Pedro Armendáriz Sr. (Ali Kerim Bey) was dying of cancer during filming. He knew this, but kept going in order to assure his family financial resources. In various scenes, he simply couldn't walk and had to have a body double. Shortly after finishing all of his scenes, he committed suicide four months before the release of the film.
- Invoked by director Garry Marshall in order to persuade Jackie Gleason to co-star in Nothing in Common. Marshall approached Gleason and basically said "do you really want your final film to have been Smokey and the Bandit Part 3?"
- Also invoked on Street Fighter: Raúl Juliá knew he was dying of cancer and decided to be part of the production because it would provide a paycheck large enough to help his family when he was gone, and because his children liked the game a lot.
- Christopher Lee's last role was a voice acting one in the independent film Angels in Notting Hill, which he completed a few weeks before passing away in 2015. His last scene has him voicing Mr. President, a magical living plush dog with some eerie dialogue. It was intentionally so according to director Michael Pakleppa.
Mr. President: I will dream of you. Have a good life, Jeffrey.
Jeffrey: I'll miss you, a lot.
Mr. President: Don't dare, or I'll haunt your dreams. (vanishes)
- Batman vs. Two-Face is Adam West's final film, and the last time he would portray the superhero he helped popularize on television, before passing away at the age of 88.
- Atlantis: The Lost Empire: This was the final role was Jim Varney, the voice of Cookie, who died more than a year before it came out. He was dying of lung cancer at the time, and he performed the role knowing full-well he wouldn't live to see the finished film.
- Ernest Borgnine's last film role was voicing Slink the Mouse for the 2011 animated film The Lion of Judah.
- Former US President Ulysses S. Grant knew he was dying of throat cancer so he put all his energy into writing his memoirs, in order to provide for his family after he was gone. He died two days after completion.
- Although the last piece Ludwig van Beethoven completed before his death was the shorter finale that replaced the Grosse Fuge in his String Quartet No.13 in B-flat (the Grosse Fuge is now more usually performed as a standalone work), the last full-length work he completed was his String Quartet No.16 in F. The finale is subtitled "Der schwer gefaßte Entschluß" ("The difficult decision") and features a slow motif marked "Muß es sein?" ("Must it be?") and a contrasting faster motif marked "Es muß sein!" ("It must be!"); while the meaning of these questions is the subject of much debate, the theory that Beethoven was reflecting on his mortality is one of the more popular.
- Queen's last song, "The Show Must Go On", is about Freddie Mercury facing death with dignity. When Brian May presented the demo to Freddie, he had doubts that the latter would be able to sing due to his illness at the time. When the time came to record the vocals, Mercury drank a measure of vodka and said "I'll fucking do it, darling!", then recorded it in one take.
The show must go on
The show must go on, yeah
Oooh inside my heart is breaking
My make-up may be flaking
But my smile still stays on
- The last song Freddie wrote by himself, "A Winter's Tale", was coincidentally inspired by watching the swans at Lake Geneva, therefore being his swan song in more than one way. It was recorded after "The Show Must Go On" and "These Are the Days of Our Lives" but before "Mother Love", which he and Brian wrote together.
- As far as music videos go, "These Are the Days of Our Lives" was the last time Freddie appeared. By this point, his illness had progressed to the point where he needed to wear make-up and have the video shot in monochrome in order to hide how gaunt and physically weak he had become, but he nonetheless delivered a stellar performance that belied his failing health.
- David Bowie's final album, ★, was written and recorded while he was suffering from liver cancer, and released on his 69th birthday, two days before his death.
- Nobody died (yet), but Abbey Road was intended to be this for The Beatles. After the disastrous Get Back sessions, they decided to pull it together for one more album before their breakup. However, Apple Records brought in Phil Spector to salvage the Get Back tapes, and the result was Let It Be, the band's chronological final album.
- Satoru Iwata, the president of Nintendo from 2002 to 2015, has the Nintendo Switch. The Switch was greenlight under his watch and he was incredibly hands-on with the system's development, serving as project lead while he was alive and giving heavy technologically input for the device's form factor and features. He also prepped the software divisions at Nintendo for future Switch projects by restructuring the company's previously disparate console and handheld development teams. Iwata would die in August 2015, over a year before the Switch would hit market.
- Final Fantasy I was intended to be one of these — nobody was dying (contrary to urban legend, the company wasn't even having financial troubles), but director Hironobu Sakaguchi's last few games had flopped, so he planned to quit the company after completing one final project, a fantasy RPG. It turned out not to be so final, in the end.
- "Episode Ardyn" has become this for Final Fantasy XV following director Hajime Tabata's departure from Square Enix and the subsequent cancellation of the rest of the game's planned DLC campaigns.
- The old Irrational Games releases the massively popular and acclaimed BioShock Infinite before changing business models and downsizing drastically. Among other things, they wanted to make BSI their best product yet to make sure all of their employees who found themselves out of job had an amazing game on their portfolios.
- Wizardry 8 was the swan song for its developer, Sir-Tech Canada, who closed its doors soon after its release, ending the twenty years-old series with a bang—unlike many other classic series of the the Golden Age of Western RPGs. W8 can also be considered a swan song of the Golden Age itself, as it was the last great game to exemplify the design paradigms and virtues typical for this period of the genre's history.
- From early 2014 until her death in late 2018, Toshiko Fujita was in failing health that left her largely unable to continue her work as a voice actress. Before she lost her battle with breast cancer late 2018, she reprised one of her roles, Dai from Dragon Quest: The Adventure of Dai, in Jump Force.
- Nobody was dying, but around 2010, the Fire Emblem series had been in a steady decline and about to be cancelled, so Intelligent Systems decided to go all out with Fire Emblem Awakening, basically indulging in Continuity Porn to the older series and ending on a high note instead of a bittersweet one. However, like the Final Fantasy example above, it instead revitalized the series and brought it back into one of Nintendo's main franchises.
- Puyo Puyo Fever was Sega's swan song as a first-party developer. It was the last game they have ever released for the Sega Dreamcast, and by extension, their own consoles.