Originally to die violently but often used today to describe a person who dies while still active.
It is not clear whether this idiom originates from the battlefield where soldiers die in combat with their boots still on, or from frontier towns in the 19th century American West - where cowboys died in gunfights (or were hung) with their boots still on. Cassell's Dictionary of Slang notes that from the late 17th century up until the early 19th, the expression meant to be hanged - lending credence to the believe that the expression originates in the American West.
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