Widely celebrated movie star John Wayne was and continues to be, not only a household name but a classic American icon. He is one of the greatest stars in Hollywood who has graced television screens. He has an unforgettable presence in more than 170 films and was among the top box office draws in a career that spanned over a whopping fifty years – though he is more usually remembered for his western-themed productions and roles.

Unfortunately, Wayne – who was also known as “The Duke” – passed away at the age of 71 after a difficult battle with stomach cancer, sending the nation into mourning for the beloved, American staple. While many fans turned to his incredible movie roles to remember him, his last public appearance continues to remain a sacred footage.

John Wayne’s Last Public Appearance

Appearing at the 1979 Academy Awards ceremony at Music Center Pavilion, John Wayne was wonderfully introduced by TV personality Johnny Carson, who led the star-studded audience’s attention to a former clip of Bob Hope raving about Wayne’s incredible talent and irreplaceability.

As the clip closed, Carson encouraged the audience to offer Wayne a warm welcome. And they did just that! Wayne received a standing ovation the moment he entered onto the vibrantly lit stage.

A very gracious Wayne absorbed the crowd’s undying energy and kindly thanked them all.

“Thank you, ladies and gentlemen. That’s just about the only medicine a fella would really ever need,” Wayne beamed. 

Wayne attended The Academy Awards, popularly known as the Oscars, to hand out the Best Picture Award to “The Deer Hunter.” Before he announced the award, Wayne noted that he and Oscar went back to the beginning together. “Oscar and I both came on the Hollywood scene in 1828.” He went on to address his illness, saying that he “plan[s] to be around for a whole lot longer.”

Tragically, Wayne died a few short months later. He requested that his tombstone read “Feo, Fuerte y Formal,” a Spanish epitaph Wayne described to mean as “ugly, strong, and dignified.”

John Wayne’s Long And Successful Career

Wayne enjoyed perhaps the longest and most successful career of any actor in film history. His breakthrough role came from a starring role in director John Ford’s “Stagecoach” in 1939. For nearly a decade, Wayne toiled in quite a few B movies, mostly westerns, for various studios. He even played a singing cowboy named Sandy Saunders among his several roles. During this time, however, Wayne began developing his man of action persona, which would serve as the basis of many recognized characters later on.

Wayne’s career as an actor took another leap forward when he worked with director Howard Hawks 1948 film, “Red River.” The film absolutely lifted him overnight to enormous fame and provided Wayne with an opportunity to show his talents as an actor, and not just an action hero. From then on, the Duke remained an outstanding performer. Wayne won his first Academy Award in 1969 for his role in “True Grit.”

To sum it up, Wayne’s vast filmography led to an equally massive impact on the movie industry. Today, he remains a respected personality in American film history, and his movies have been passed down through generations.

Author Ronald Davis said it best in his book, Duke: The Life and Image of John Wayne:

“John Wayne personified for millions the nation’s frontier heritage…he played cowboys, cavalrymen, and unconquerable loners.”

You can view John Wayne’s last public appearance below and help us in remembering this legend.

John Wayne’s Final Speech