There's a reason why so many biopics suck -- most of them end with "and then he got old and died," which is a pretty unoriginal third act as far as stories go. No, the famous life stories that stick in your mind are the ones that end on a dramatic note, like John Lennon (shot by a crazed fan), or Princess Diana (chased by paparazzi), or Hugh Hefner (smothered by giant fake boobies, inevitably).
However, it turns out that some of the most famously juicy, ironic, or poetic deaths ever were nothing like they told you. For example ...
Charles Darwin Didn't Recant on His Deathbed
Charles Darwin's theory of evolution has many detractors, but as millions of evangelical Christians can tell you, perhaps the most notorious was ... Charles Darwin himself. As the story goes, when Darwin grew ill, he turned to religion and began studying the Bible. On his deathbed, he met up with a British evangelist and confided to her that he regretted his past work, saying, "I was a young man with unformed ideas." It's a powerful story about how even the most intellectual skeptic can change his beliefs when confronted with death.
"I also renounce beards. Bring me a razor! Banish this wretched thing from my face!"
But Actually ...
Not only has Darwin's family denied the story, but there's no reason to believe it's true.
Keep in mind that Darwin started out religious and turned less so as he got older, eventually becoming an agnostic, as he was at the time of his death. His last words were "I am not the least afraid to die." Also remember that Darwin's wife, Emma, was religious herself and would have delighted in her husband's conversion, yet she never mentioned anything of the sort. So where did the rumor come from? Well, let's put it this way: It wasn't exactly an unbiased source.
"And then Darwin was all 'God's the bomb, yo! Let's dunk some shit.' And then we totally dunked some shit."
The story came from an evangelist named Lady Hope, who claimed that Darwin recanted his beliefs while she was visiting him. First, even among evangelists, Hope, whose real name was Elizabeth Cotton, wasn't well-trusted. Second, while she published more than 30 books filled with evangelistic themes and personal anecdotes, she never mentioned the Darwin story until 1915, 33 years after the man's death. According to her own telling, Darwin urged her to spread the word of Jesus among his tenants, servants, and neighbors ... yet not a single person confirmed that she was even there.
Who could forget that lovely hat, or those empty, soulless eyes?