History

Did This Texas Killer’s Last Words Inspire the Nike ‘Just Do It’ Campaign?

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Gary Gilmore was an infamous spree-killer from Texas. However, his effect on pop-culture has flown under the radar. If you’ve watched the movie (starring Tommy Lee Jones) called “The Executioner’s Song,” or listened to the song entitled “Gary Gilmore’s Eyes,” you’ve been given only a slight glimpse into the mind of this notorious murderer. It’s even been claimed, in a New York Times article, that Gilmore’s last words inspired the Nike company’s marketing campaign “Just Do It.” Gilmore was executed in 1977 by a firing squad in Utah. Right before they executed him, he said the words “Let’s do it.” Several years after, this would allegedly be the phrase that inspired Nike’s “Just Do It” campaign.

Born in McCamey, Texas in 1940, Gilmore was the second of four sons, to an alcoholic con man (who had other wives and families) and a Mormon outcast. Estranged from his family for various reasons, and the product of a violent and unsettling upbringing, he began a career in petty crime as an adolescent. His I.Q. was high, and his aptitude and achievement test scores mirrored that, with Gilmore showing artistic talent. However, he dropped out of high school at the ninth grade. He ran away from his then-home in Portland, Oregon, to go with a friend back to Texas, later returning to Portland following a number of months.

Man holding a gun

Photo: envato elements

At the age of 14, Gilmore graduated to stealing cars, for which he was sent to reform school. After another arrest, he then went on to the Oregon State Correctional Institution in 1960, getting released after a one-year sentence. His father died of lung cancer in 1962, when Gary was doing time in Portland’s Rocky Butte Jail. Despite his poor relationship with his family, he was devastated to learn of the loss of his dad, and tried to commit suicide by slitting his wrists. After this, his crimes grew in nature, from thefts to assaults, robberies, and eventually murder. The first of his victims was a gas station employee in Utah, on July 19, 1976. The second was a motel manager on the following night. Over the process of trying to hide the weapon and looking for medical assistance for an injury he sustained, Gilmore eventually gave up to Utah authorities without attempting to flee.

Hands holding the gun

Photo: envato elements

Due to the fact that Gilmore was the first individual in the U.S. to be executed following the reinstatement of the death penalty, his story had somewhat of a cultural reverberation at that time. Of note was the novel entitled “The Executioner’s Song,” written by Norman Mailer (who won a Pulitzer Prize for his work). It precipitated the movie of the same name, in which Tommy Lee Jones (another Texas notable) portrayed Gilmore in the story of his life and crimes. Among other reflections on Gilmore and what resulted from his spree, the song “Gary Gilmore’s Eyes” was recorded by a 1977 punk rock band called The Adverts, and it was used in the soundtrack for the same movie noted above. The impetus for the song was the fact that Gilmore requested that some of his organs be donated following his execution, such as his corneas. The song was then penned from the point-of-view of a patient who received the eyes of Gary Gilmore as a transplant.