Speaking Ill of the Dead (Sometimes, It's a Duty)

John Wayne Gacy, Jr.
Go ahead, speak ill of him.
John Wayne Gacy, Jr.
Yes, I've spoken ill of him, and of Adolf Hitler, Al Capone. The fact that those scumbags are dead has not deterred me, nor many of you. They were horrible people, and the fact that they are dead does not change that fact. To not speak of their misdeeds is to put your head in the sand, to deny history, reality and to deny us an opportunity to learn...and express honest feelings. 

Is any sane person saying nice things in memory of "Unabomber" Ted Kaczynski? Reports say he committed suicide in his prison cell on Saturday, June 10, 2023. Kaczynski "carried out a 17-year bombing campaign that killed three people and injured 23 others." 

Good riddance, I say, and I'm not alone. 

The old saying "don't speak ill of the dead" assumes that every dead person deserves respect. But plenty of people do say nasty things about dead people. Some deserve it, some don't. I suppose it could be a matter of personal perception, one that will find disagreement among us. But there are some who absolutely deserve to be spoken ill of after they've died.

John Wayne Gacy, for example, did many good deeds.
But there was another side to Mr. Gacy:

"It is no surprise that John Wayne Gacy, Jr. was admired and liked by most who had known him. He was a sharp businessman who had spent his elaborate street parties for friends and neighbors, dressing as a clown and entertaining children at local hospitals and immersing himself in organizations such as the Jaycees, working to make his community a better place to live. People who knew Gacy thought of him as a generous, friendly and hard-working man, devoted to his family and community. However, there was another side to Gacy that few had ever witnessed..."  from

And that other side was not very pretty. He was active in his community. He kissed Jimmy Carter's wife on the cheek, once. But the worst was his habit of killing boys. Gacy was a serial killer. To forgive his evil deeds just because he also did some good deeds - or just because he's dead - is folly. 

"When Chicago businessman John Wayne Gacy was exposed in December 1978 as a sadistic homosexual serial killer it came as a seismic shock to his neighbours, friends and business associates. It was also deeply embarrassing for the Democratic Party of President Jimmy Carter as Gacy was an enthusiastic supporter who had been photographed with the First Lady, Rosalyn Carter." Story at BBC 

Image by Rudy and Peter Skitterians
from Pixabay
How many of you have ever spoken ill of the late Ronald Reagan? How many of you are currently making jokes about Anna Nichole Smith? Or Mother Teresa?
 If so, you certainly don't apply the rule of not speaking ill of the dead, do you? And I'm not condemning you for it. 

There have been many well-known people in our history, recent and distant, who did good deeds while alive. Some performed heroic deeds. A good number of those now-dead heros or do-gooders were also scoundrels. To deny that they were scoundrels is to paint half a picture.

So should we never speak ill of the dead? It's a good rule in general, but sometimes we must. Sometimes it is a duty.

Related: Speak Honestly of the Dead Even if it Means Speaking Ill of Them - Patheos (2021)


  1. You are correct, Mr. Bush. Thanks for taking time out of your busy schedule to drop me your kind note. Hi to the wife and kids, sorry I haven't gotten to D.C. lately. Gotta go, Trent's on the phone.


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