Ancient Greeks allowed condemned men to enjoy multi-course feasts, providing them with sustenance -- and liquid courage -- for their trip to the afterlife. The ritual of the last meal persisted in some form or another throughout medieval Europe, eventually infiltrating western culture -- today, most U.S. penitentiaries grant death row inmates a final dish of their choosing. I took a look at some famous (and infamous) historical figures' last meals -- some consumed with knowledge of their coming demise, others unexpected...
(This got me thinking: If I had one final dish to choose, would it be? After considering the options (Mom's lasagna? Nobu's black cod? The Colonel's buttermilk biscuits?) I finally landed on a good roast chicken pictured, deliciously, above. Looking for a great dinner idea for tonight? See BHG.com's irresistible & easy pizzas, all-time favorite chicken recipes, and elegant steak dinners.)
Despondent over the death of her husband Anthony, Cleopatra requested a final meal of figs -- with a side of deadly asp. Yes, she elected to perish by snakebite, choosing this particular method so it wouldn't mar her features in death. Centuries, and one Elizabeth Taylor epic later, this decision paid off.
Robert E. Lee
In 1870, after the Civil War's end, Confederate Army General Robert E. Lee suffered a stroke. He subsisted on brandy and beef soup for weeks, which was believed to be his final meal. His last words? "Strike the tent", which meant, in faithful Southerner terms, it's time to move on to a better place.
The first class passengers on this doomed vessel went out in high culinary style. The menu for the final dinner service on the Titanic reads as follows: Consomme Olga, poached salmon with mousseline sauce, lamb with mint sauce, roast duckling with apple sauce, sirloin of beef with chateau potatoes, stuffed summer squash, creamed carrots, green peas, foie gras, Waldorf pudding, chocolate and vanilla eclairs, peaches in chartreuse jelly and ice cream.
Uncontested guitar god, Woodstock icon, college-poster stalwart, and counter-cultural hero Jimi Hendrix had a rather less-than-revolutionary final meal before his accidental overdose of sleeping pills in London in 1970: A tuna-fish sandwich.
Before Oklahoma City bomber Timothy McVeigh was executed on June 11, 2001 in Terre Haute, Indiana, he requested, and polished off, two pints of Ben & Jerry's mint chocolate-chip ice cream.
The renown poet, author, activist, and patriarch of the Beat movement cooked -- and consumed -- a delicious fish chowder before his death, in 1997. Two gallons of leftover chowder were later discovered in his freezer and are, rumor has it, still preserved in anticipation of a museum exhibit entitled "The Last Soup of Allen Ginsberg."
After consuming massive quantities of alcohol and illegal substances, legendary comedian and Saturday Night Live star John Belushi had a soothing bowl of lentil soup just before his untimely death at the Chateau Marmont in West Hollywood.
John F. Kennedy
JFK's final breakfast, consumed at a meeting with supporters before his fateful Dallas motorcade, was typical of the pragmatic President: Orange juice, coffee, soft-boiled eggs, bacon, and toast with marmalade.
Apparently this fact is widely known, but in the post-memorial mayhem I somehow missed the details of M.J.'s final meal: Spinach salad with chicken breast. A healthy and antioxidant-rich meal.
Perry Smith and Richard Hickock
The infamous Kansas murderers immortalized in Truman Capote's In Cold Blood shared everything, including a final meal of shrimp, french fries, garlic bread, ice cream, and strawberries with whipped cream before their sentence was carried out, death by hanging.
One of the world's most beloved culinary figures departed the earth not after a grand soufflé
or boeuf bourguignon, but, fittingly, after a classic, simple, savory bowl of french onion soup.
If you could choose any meal, what would your last supper be?