In winter of 1976, the country was all abuzz about Gary Gilmore, a convicted Utah murderer who was demanding his own death. Gary, a career criminal, had killed two people in two days during the summer of ’76–a gas station attendant and a motel manager–even though both had cooperated with his demands for money. After a two day trial in October, a jury convicted Gary and unanimously recommended the death penalty. At that time, Utah had two options for execution: hanging and firing squad. Gary asked to be shot, and the date was set for November 15. Despite his desire to get it over with, Gary received several stays of execution thanks to efforts by the ACLU. After the first stay was issued, Gary attempted suicide in his cell. Gary asked that all those trying to save him kindly “butt out,” adding, “This is my life and this is my death. It’s been sanctioned by the courts that I die and I accept that.” He would become the first person executed after the U.S. reinstated the death penalty in 1976.
When the time finally came for Gary to die before the firing squad, he was brought to an old cannery behind the prison and strapped to a chair. It was there that Gary issued his famous last words: “Let’s do it!,” followed by “Dominus Vobiscum” (“The Lord be with you”) addressed to the prison chaplain who administered his last rites. Immediately after his death, Gary’s corneas were donated to awaiting recipients, as per his request.
Gary became somewhat of a cultural icon. The Police song Bring on the Night was inspired by Gary’s possible thoughts on the night before his death. In his performance in the film The Postman Always Rings Twice, Jack Nicholson was inspired by Gary. He was mentioned in Saturday Night Live, Seinfeld and Roseanne. Perhaps most notably, famed advertising executive Dan Wieden credits Gary’s parting words as the inspiration for Nike’s tagline, “Just Do It.”