What Were the Last Words of Gary Gilmore: A Look into the Infamous Execution

  • By: Timothy Rose
  • Date: 23 February 2024
  • Time to read: 5 min.

Gary Gilmore was a notorious criminal who gained national attention in the late 1970s when he was sentenced to death for murder. His case became even more infamous when he refused to appeal his sentence, stating that he wanted to be executed as soon as possible. On January 17, 1977, Gary Gilmore was executed by firing squad at Utah State Prison. In the moments leading up to his death, many people wondered what his last words would be.

Despite the anticipation, Gary Gilmore’s last words were not particularly memorable or profound. As he was being prepared for execution, he reportedly said to his executioners, “Let’s do it.” These words have since become somewhat iconic, and have been referenced in popular culture in various ways. However, it is worth noting that there is some debate over whether or not these were actually his last words, as some witnesses claim that he may have said something else in the moments before his death. Regardless, the phrase “Let’s do it” has become synonymous with Gary Gilmore and his controversial case.

Gary Gilmore’s Final Moments

Execution Day

On January 17, 1977, Gary Gilmore was executed by firing squad at Utah State Prison. Gilmore had been sentenced to death for the murder of two men, and his execution marked the first time in over a decade that a death sentence had been carried out in the United States.

Final Statement

Before his execution, Gilmore was given the opportunity to make a final statement. He declined, reportedly saying “Let’s do it” instead. However, there is some debate over whether these were actually his words or if they were a reference to a Nike advertising campaign from the time.

Last Words

As the execution was carried out, Gilmore’s last words were reportedly “Let’s do it.” These words have become famous in American culture, and have been referenced in numerous books, films, and songs.

Despite the controversy surrounding his final statement, there is no doubt that Gilmore’s last words have had a lasting impact on popular culture. They serve as a reminder of the complex and often controversial nature of the death penalty, and of the importance of considering the human element in any discussion of justice and punishment.

Historical Context

Gilmore’s Crimes

Gary Gilmore was a notorious criminal who had a long history of violent behavior. He had been in and out of prison for most of his adult life, and had committed a number of serious crimes, including armed robbery and murder. In 1976, he was released from prison after serving a sentence for armed robbery, and he immediately resumed his criminal activities.

On July 19, 1976, Gilmore robbed and murdered two men in Utah. He was quickly apprehended and confessed to the crimes. His trial was swift, and he was sentenced to death.

Death Penalty Reinstatement

Gilmore’s case was significant because it marked the first time in over a decade that the death penalty had been reinstated in the United States. In 1972, the Supreme Court had ruled that the death penalty was unconstitutional, but in 1976, the Court reversed its decision, allowing states to once again use the death penalty as a form of punishment.

Gilmore’s case was seen as a test of the new ruling, and it set a precedent for other states to follow. In the years that followed, many other states reinstated the death penalty, and it remains a controversial issue to this day.

Media Attention

Gilmore’s case also received a great deal of media attention, due in part to his own actions. He refused to appeal his sentence, and instead demanded that his execution be carried out as soon as possible. This made him something of a celebrity, and his story was covered extensively in the press.

The media attention surrounding Gilmore’s case helped to fuel the debate over the death penalty, and it brought the issue to the forefront of public consciousness. Many people were divided over the issue, with some arguing that the death penalty was necessary to deter crime, while others believed that it was a cruel and inhumane form of punishment.

Cultural Impact

Influence on Arts

Gary Gilmore’s last words have had a significant impact on various forms of art, including literature, music, and film. Norman Mailer’s Pulitzer Prize-winning book “The Executioner’s Song” is based on the life and death of Gary Gilmore, including his famous last words. The book was later adapted into a TV movie, which also featured Gilmore’s final words.

Musicians have also been inspired by Gilmore’s last words. The punk rock band, The Adverts, released a song titled “Gary Gilmore’s Eyes” in 1977, which was a commentary on the media’s fascination with Gilmore’s execution. The song became a hit in the UK, and its lyrics referenced Gilmore’s last words.

In film, Gilmore’s last words have been referenced in various movies, including “Dead Man Walking” and “The Green Mile.” These movies explore the themes of capital punishment and the morality of the death penalty.

Legal and Ethical Discussions

Gary Gilmore’s execution and his last words sparked a debate about the ethics of capital punishment. Some argued that the death penalty was a necessary form of punishment for heinous crimes, while others believed it was cruel and inhumane.

Gilmore’s last words, “Let’s do it,” have also been used in advertising campaigns, including Nike’s famous slogan “Just Do It.” However, the use of Gilmore’s words in advertising has been controversial, with some arguing that it is inappropriate to use the words of a convicted murderer in a marketing campaign.

The legacy of Gary Gilmore’s last words continues to be a topic of discussion in legal and ethical circles, as the debate over the death penalty and its morality persists.


Family Reactions

Gary Gilmore’s family was devastated by his execution. His brother, Mikal Gilmore, wrote a memoir titled “Shot in the Heart” where he described the emotional turmoil that his family went through. Mikal also revealed that Gary’s last words were “Let’s do it.” These words have become infamous and are often misquoted as “Just do it.”

Public Perception

The public was divided on Gary Gilmore’s execution. Some believed that it was a necessary punishment for his heinous crimes, while others saw it as a barbaric act. The fact that Gary was willing to accept his fate and did not try to appeal his sentence added to the controversy surrounding his execution.


Gary Gilmore’s execution had a lasting impact on the American justice system. It was the first execution to take place after the reinstatement of the death penalty in 1976. The publicity surrounding the case also led to a renewed debate on the morality and effectiveness of capital punishment.

Overall, Gary Gilmore’s last words have become a part of American pop culture and are often referenced in movies, TV shows, and music. While his legacy is a controversial one, there is no denying the impact that his case had on the American justice system.

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