Celebrities are sometimes asked to opine on what they’d like to eat for their last meals, and they’ve often rhapsodized about the delightful delicacies they’d prefer to experience as the final flavors to dance upon their tastebuds.
Of course, this is usually a hypothetical question, as the only people who typically get to actually plan their final meals are death row inmates. In actuality, most people’s final meals are maddeningly random, and are rarely as exotic and memorable as they would have hoped. Occasionally, however, the final meals of some celebrities come to be known, often from the circumstances that surround those celebrities’ deaths — with food sometimes even factoring into their demises.
From the indulgently gargantuan meal enjoyed by Sopranos star James Gandolfini prior to his fatal heart attack, to the surprisingly austere dish eaten by flamboyant piano virtuoso Liberace before his journey to the great beyond, read on to find out about the final meals eaten by these and other celebs.
Best known for playing New Jersey mob boss Tony Soprano in The Sopranos, James Gandolfini was a big guy with a big appetite. That was apparent when the actor passed away of a heart attack in 2013 at age 51, shortly after eating an epic meal while vacationing in Rome.
A "hotel source" told the New York Post that Gandolfini, who enjoyed the meal with his son, drank four shots of rum, two pina coladas, and two beers while at dinner. That dinner, said the source, included two orders of fried king prawns topped with mayonnaise chili sauce, as well as a "large portion" of foie gras. Nearly "everything [Gandolfini] ordered was fried," added the source. "Obviously, that’s going to cause problems with your heart."
However, family friend Michael Kobold disputed some parts of the Post‘s story, calling reports that Gandolfini drank eight alcoholic beverages during dinner as "nonsense." He did concede that Gandolfini had eaten "some of the food listed," but insisted the pina coladas were alcohol-free, ordered for the actor’s son, who was then 13.
Princess Diana was just 36 when she died, the victim of a horrific car crash while fleeing paparazzi in Paris’ Pont de l’Alma tunnel. Just prior to the accident, Diana and boyfriend Dodi Fayed dined at L’Espadon, the high-end restaurant within the city’s famed Ritz hotel. USA Today reported that, for her final meal, "the people’s princess" ordered Dover sole, vegetable tempura, and an omelet made with mushrooms and asparagus.
That meal was apparently somewhat typical for Diana, according to royal chef Darren O’Grady, who cooked for the Queen at Buckingham Palace for 11 years before becoming Diana’s private chef after her 1993 separation from Prince Charles. In an interview with the Daily Mail, O’Grady revealed that the Princess of Wales embraced healthy foods while avoiding carbs, and rarely ate red meat. One of her favorite dishes, said O’Grady, was stuffed peppers, while poached chicken was also frequently on the menu.
"For [Diana’s] potatoes, I’d parboil them and toss in egg whites and paprika," said O’Grady of how she liked her food prepared. "She’d cut out the fat so it was always poached chicken, no skin, no fatty potatoes."
Actress Brittany Murphy was just 18 years old when she skyrocketed to fame as part of the young cast of 1995’s surprise hit, Clueless. Just 14 years later, she passed away at age 32, on a morning shortly before Christmas 2009. According to People, the cause of death was determined to be a combination of pneumonia and anemia in addition to "multiple drug intoxication" due to over-the-counter medication and physician-prescribed medication (no illegal drugs were found in her system or her home, according to police reports and the toxicology report).
Meanwhile, TMZ shared information culled from the notes made by investigators while combing the scene of the actress’ death. While no evidence was found of any foul play, the notes did shed some light on the final meal the actress had before her untimely passing. "The night prior to her death, the decedent had consumed some noodles, leftover Thai food, Gatorade, water and tea with lemon," the notes determined.
Flamboyant concert pianist Liberace was known as "Mr. Showmanship," ultimately becoming better known for his lavish lifestyle and extravagant wardrobe than for his not-inconsiderable prowess on the keyboard. At one time ranking as the highest-paid pianist in a single season, in 1987 Liberace — whole real name was Władziu Valentino Liberace — passed away from cardiac arrest due to congestive heart failure at age 67. While there were rumors that his illness was AIDS-related, his spokesmen denied he had the disease.
Gladys Luckie was arguably one of the people who knew him best, working for the entertainer for 40 years in a loosely defined role Liberace jokingly described as "a second mother." Following Liberace’s death, Luckie told the Las Vegas Sun about Liberace’s final days, recalling that few weeks before his death that she thought his condition was improving "because he was eating so well."
On his final day on Earth, Luckie served him a porridge-like breakfast cereal that was a Liberace favorite. "That last day I made him Cream of Wheat. He gave me a smile and a wink," she told the newspaper. "And that was the last thing. He died." According to Luckie, Liberace "always said I was the only one who made Cream of Wheat the way he liked it — with sugar and lots of butter."
There are few figures more influential in the field of food than Julia Child, whose groundbreaking cookbook Mastering the Art of French Cooking and pioneering PBS TV series The French Chef paved the way for anyone to ever host a show on The Food Network.
When the beloved chef passed away at age 91 in 2004, it was after enjoying a very appropriate meal, given her affinity for French cuisine. As the Los Angeles Times reported, Child died in her sleep "after a last meal of French onion soup prepared by her longtime assistant, Stephanie Hersh."
Interestingly enough, French onion soup was one of the first dishes she prepared on television, featured in an early episode of The French Chef when it made its television debut in 1963. In the episode, Child begins by peeling and slicing onions, resulting in a discussion of why knives must be kept sharpened, and the proper way to sharpen them. "I find when I go visiting and I’m asked to cook I can’t find any sharp knives, so I always take my own with me," divulged Child, who was apparently heavily armed wherever she went.
In 1980, the world was stunned and saddened when deranged gunman Mark David Chapman assassinated John Lennon on the street outside his New York City apartment. Lennon was reportedly returning from the Hit Factory recording studio, where he and wife Yoko Ono were working on mixing a new track called "Walking on Thin Ice."
According to the book Last Suppers, before heading to the studio, the former Beatle stopped by Manhattan’s famed Stage Deli (which shut its doors in 2012). The restaurant’s manager, Gill Kashkin, told author James L. Dickerson that Lennon ordered a corned beef sandwich. He washed that down with a cup of hot tea, and headed to the studio.
According to the song’s producer, Jack Douglas, in an interview with Rolling Stone, Lennon and Ono decided to head out around 10:30 p.m. that night. Less than 30 minutes later, he was shot outside of the building that he called home. Lennon was pronounced dead at 11:15 p.m..
The King of Rock ‘n’ Roll sufered an ignominious end when his girlfriend, Ginger Alden, found Elvis Presley unconscious on the floor of the master bedroom in his mansion, Graceland. After he was taken to a nearby hospital, doctors pronounced him dead. A team of pathologists later conducted a post-mortem examination, with "preliminary autopsy findings" indicating the cause of death was "cardiac arrhythmia."
In David Adler’s The Life and Cuisine of Elvis Presley, reported the Baltimore Sun, Presley’s final documented meal wasn’t so much a meal as a large snack. According to the book, Presley ate four scoops of Sealtest ice cream. Two of those scoops were peach ice cream, and the other two were an unidentified flavor — though some have surmised it was vanilla, as those were the two flavors mentioned on a grocery list from Presley.
Along with ice cream, Presley was known to have a serious fondness for artery-clogging sandwiches, including his favorite — the famed fried peanut butter, bacon and banana sandwich. He also enjoyed the epically caloric Fool’s Gold Loaf, which The Independent says starts with a hollowed-out loaf of sourdough bread, and is then filled with an entire jar of peanut butter, an entire jar of grape jam, as well as a pound of bacon, before being deep-fried.
Before his accidental overdose death in a bungalow at Los Angeles’ Chateau Marmont in 1982, John Belushi was known for having an enormous appetite for food, booze, drugs and life in general. After the Saturday Night Live star’s death at age 33, Rolling Stone published an exhaustive account of his final night.
According to the magazine, the night before he overdosed, Belushi paid a visit to Sunset Strip rock club the Rainbow Bar and Grill, and complained of a stomachache from greasy food. Rainbow manager Mark Weber served him soup, hoping it would help him feel better.
More detail on what would be Belushi’s last meal came from Vice, in an account of the legendary music venue. According to Vice, Belushi ate a bowl of lentil soup, with the subsequent autopsy report indicating the soup was the only substance in his stomach that wasn’t drugs.
Food, in fact, plays a key role in arguably the most memorable scene in Belushi’s most successful movie. In Animal House, Belushi’s signature scene comes after his character, Bluto Blutarski, stuffs his mouth with mashed potatoes and smashes his first into his cheeks, spewing potato bits everywhere. Just moments later, he yells, "Food fight!"
Whitney Houston’s soaring voice was silenced permanently in 2012 when the 48-year-old singer was found face-down in a bathtub full of water in her suite at the posh Beverly Hilton hotel, with drug paraphernalia nearby.
Despite the circumstances, ABC News reported that the coroner’s report indicated Houston did not die by drowning, although extreme intoxication was clearly a factor. "I think that this lady fell into the water, she was unconscious, dead or dying when she fell into the tub," said forensic pathologist Cyril Wecht. "I do not believe that the death was due to drowning," although he admitted that "with her head submerged in water that certainly could have contributed to her death."
TMZ obtained a photo of the late singer’s hotel bathroom after her body had been removed, which revealed clues about her final meal. According to them, Houston ordered a hamburger, fries, a turkey sandwich, and jalapenos. Also seen in the photo was an empty can of Heineken beer and an empty champagne glass.
Family sources told TMZ that Houston ate the burger and fries, and took the turkey sandwich and jalapenos with her into the bathroom. They say she planned to take a bath, and to eat the sandwich and jalapenos afterwards.
Jimi Hendrix’s career was at its peak when, on September 17, 1970, the trailblazing guitarist and girlfriend Monika Dannemann spent the evening hanging out in her London apartment, later heading out to a party and then returning home. The next day he was dead, at age 27.
According to PopSugar, Tony Brown’s book Jimi Hendrix: The Final Days recounts the details of that fateful night. When they got back after the party, Dannemann told authorities, she made them both tuna sandwiches. The next morning, Hendrix was found dead, with the official cause of death said to be asphyxiation on his own vomit after taking sleeping pills.
Starting at Zero, a collection of quotes from various interviews Hendrix gave, includes one quote in which the musician detailed his favorite foods: "Spaghetti, strawberry shortcake with whipped cream, and banana cream pie. I like typical soul food too — greens and rice." Asked about English food, he responded: "Oh god! Man. See, English food, it’s difficult to explain. You get mashed potatoes with just about everything, and I ain’t gonna say anything good about that."
Mama Cass Elliot
"Mama" Cass Elliot shot to fame in the late 1960s as one-quarter of the folk-rock vocal group The Mamas and the Papas. She passed away at age 32, as legend had it, after choking to death on a ham sandwich. That’s not what happened though.
That rumor was spawned by what turned out to be her final meal: a partially eaten ham sandwich found on her bedside table. The urban legend about her death appeared to come from Dr. Anthony Greenburgh, the first doctor to examine Elliot’s body. "From what I saw when I got to the flat," he told the Daily Express (via Snopes.com), "she appeared to have been eating a ham sandwich and drinking Coca-Cola while lying down — a very dangerous thing to do. This would be especially dangerous for someone like Cass who was overweight and who might be prone to having a heart attack. She seemed to have choked on a ham sandwich."
That apocryphal tale, however, is entirely untrue. In fact, a police inspector called to the scene later reported that the sandwich had not even been touched.
As a 1992 piece in Entertainment Weekly makes clear, Elliott died of natural causes, not asphyxiation from choking. The coroner’s inquest determined the cause of death to be "fatty myocardial degeneration due to obesity", aka, a heart attack.
Suffering from terminal prostate cancer and nearing the end, France’s President Francois Mitterand made headlines in 1996 — and not the good kind — when, with the Grim Reaper knocking at the door, he organized one last meal.
And what a meal it was. According to an Esquire article by Michael Paterniti, who recreated the meal for himself, the menu included Marennes oysters, foie gras accompanied by fresh crusty bread, and a sweet sauterne to drink, capon and, for the main course, "a large platter of tiny, cooked ortolans" — a tiny songbird weighing less than an ounce. Consuming ortolans is both controversial and historical. In fact, the small birds are traditionally eaten while hiding one’s face under a cloth napkin, to either trap the aromas and tastes inside with you, or to hide from God that you’re eating tiny birds.
After that feast, Mitterand never ate again. As Paterniti told NPR, "in the days after he ate not another bite of food and died within 10 days, I think, of the last meal."
Beloved Canadian funnyman John Candy was just 43 years old when he passed away on location while filming Wagons East, a mediocre 1994 comedy-western co-starring comedian Richard Lewis. Candy, a heavy smoker and indulgent eater, died in his sleep of a heart attack in Chupaderos, Mexico, just outside Durango. Earlier that day, he had filmed his final scene in the movie — one he felt might have been his best work yet.
In a report from People, Candy was said to be in a jovial mood that night after filming was completed and he could finally return home. According to the magazine, he cooked a late-night spaghetti dinner for his assistants, then made phone calls to his co-stars, Lewis and Robert Picardo. The three actors spent a few minutes enjoying their accomplishments. "He was like a little kid who had had a great day at camp," Picardo told People. "He wanted to thank us."
Later that night, Candy turned in and never woke up, his final meal consisting of homemade spaghetti he cooked to share with those who helped him create the last film he ever made.