What Is the Best Exit of All Time?

A big question

Graham Roumieu

Phil Keoghan, host, The Amazing Race

At 10:56 p.m. on July 20, 1969, Neil Armstrong exited “the Eagle,” Apollo 11’s lunar module, and entered the history books. As half a billion people watched live from Earth, Armstrong became the first human to walk on the moon.

Brian Wolly, digital editor, Smithsonian magazine

By voluntarily stepping down from the presidency after two terms, George Washington did his part to keep the United States from becoming an autocracy. His farewell address laid out an exemplary vision for the country he helped build, forewarning against messy international entanglements and petty domestic disputes. In short, Washington taught us how to say goodbye.

Michael Finkel, author, The Stranger in the Woods

It’s a three-way tie between Jesus (who left society to wander alone in the Sinai desert for 40 days), Muhammad (who retreated to a cave near Mecca), and Buddha (who meditated beneath a pipal tree in India). After their exits, each founded a religion. More than 4 billion people now follow one of these faiths.

Graham Roumieu

Sacha Zimmerman, senior editor, The Atlantic

Elvis, of course, famously left the building.

Jen Kirkman, comedian and author, I Know What I’m Doing—And Other Lies I Tell Myself (out in paperback April 24)

The best exit of all time is comedy folklore. The story goes that Redd Foxx was slowly walking onstage to the Sanford and Son theme song when he stopped, noticed the show’s poor attendance, and said, “Five people? I ain’t performing for no motherfucking five people.” He turned and slowly walked offstage as, on cue, the Sanford and Son theme started right back up again.

Stephanie Danler, author, Sweetbitter

The Irish exit, otherwise known as leaving a party without saying goodbye. It’s the best thing to happen to party etiquette in my lifetime. Do not pause and make a drinks date that you will surely cancel. Do not get roped into one last tequila shot or a nightcap at a murky after-party. Fetch your belongings, get into your Lyft, draft your thank-you text, and enjoy the silence.

Reader Responses

Bo Wang, Palo Alto, Calif.

Pheidippides, the ancient-Greek foot soldier turned courier, is reported to have run from Marathon to Athens to deliver news of the Greeks’ victory over the Persians in the Battle of Marathon. “We are victorious!” he uttered, before collapsing and passing on to the afterworld.

Thomas J. Straka, Pendleton, S.C.

Richard Nixon exited twice. After he lost the gubernatorial election in California, in 1962, he famously said, “You don’t have Nixon to kick around anymore.” And then, after he resigned the presidency, he gave that iconic victory wave from the White House South Lawn. Both exits are in the history books.

Gary Kohl, Toronto, Canada

Socrates crushed his persecutors’ arguments, took his poison, and left a legacy that has lasted through the ages.

Graham Roumieu

Margaret Whitt, Gerton, N.C.

Thelma and Louise joyously driving at top speed over a cliff—credits roll.

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