die in harness, to

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die in harness

To die while still actively working or still of the age or physical condition to do so (i.e., before retirement). With medicine and healthcare improving at such vast rates, far fewer people die in harness than ever before.
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Farlex Dictionary of Idioms. © 2015 Farlex, Inc, all rights reserved.

die with one's boots on

Also, die in harness. Expire while working, keep working to the end, as in He'll never retire-he'll die with his boots on, or She knows she'll never get promoted, but she wants to die in harness. Both phrases probably allude to soldiers who died on active duty. Until the early 1600s the noun boot denoted a piece of armor for the legs, which may have given rise to this usage; and Shakespeare used harness in the sense of armor when he wrote: "At least we'll die with harness on our back" ( Macbeth 5:5).
See also: boot, die, on
The American Heritage® Dictionary of Idioms by Christine Ammer. Copyright © 2003, 1997 by The Christine Ammer 1992 Trust. Published by Houghton Mifflin Harcourt Publishing Company. All rights reserved.

die in harness

die before retirement.
This expression is drawing a comparison between a person at work and a horse in harness drawing a plough or cart.
1992 Harper's Magazine Don't overly concern yourself with the union pension fund. Musicians mostly die in harness.
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Farlex Partner Idioms Dictionary © Farlex 2017

die in ˈharness

die while you are still working
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Farlex Partner Idioms Dictionary © Farlex 2017

die in harness, to

To keep on working to the end. The analogy of a draft horse working until it drops dates from Shakespeare’s time (or earlier). “At least we’ll die with harness on our back,” says Macbeth before his fateful battle with Macduff (Macbeth, 5.5). Such a death, incidentally, is considered desirable and admirable. “It is a man dying with his harness on that angels love to escort upward,” said the American preacher Henry Ward Beecher (Proverbs from Plymouth Pulpit, 1887). Precisely the same is meant by to die with one’s boots on, although more likely this expression comes from the battlefield (soldiers dying on active duty).
See also: die
The Dictionary of Clichés by Christine Ammer Copyright © 2013 by Christine Ammer
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