Jeanne Calment

Jeanne Louise Calment (French pronunciation: [ʒan lwiz kalmɑ̃]; 21 February 1875 – 4 August 1997, 10:45 CET)[1] had the longest confirmed human life span in history, living 122 years and 164 days (44,724 days total).[2] She lived in Arles, France, for her entire life, and outlived both her daughter and grandson. She became especially well known from the age of 113, when the centenary of Vincent van Gogh's visit brought reporters to Arles, for she was the last person living to have met the artist. She entered the Guinness Book of Records in 1988, and on 17 October 1995 was declared the oldest person who had ever lived, having surpassed (the now dubious case of) Shigechiyo Izumi of Japan. Also in 1995, she became the last documented person born in the 1870s when the Japanese supercentenarian Tane Ikai (born 1879) died on the 12th of July. Her life span has been thoroughly documented by scientific study, with more records having been produced to verify her age than for any other case.

Calment was born in Arles and lived there for all of her life.[1] Her father, Nicolas, was a shipbuilder, and her mother, Marguerite, was from a family of millers. Her close family members also lived to an advanced age: her older brother, François, lived to the age of 97, her father to 93, and her mother to 86. In 1888, Calment met Vincent van Gogh, who had come to her uncle's shop to buy paint. Calment would remember him as "dirty, badly dressed, and disagreeable".[4][5] In 1896, at the age of 21, she married her second cousin (grandson of her great-uncle) Fernand Calment,[3] a wealthy store owner. His wealth made it possible for Jeanne to never have to work; instead she led a leisured lifestyle, pursuing hobbies like tennis, cycling, swimming, rollerskating, piano and opera.[1] Her husband died in 1942 at the age of around 73 or 74 after eating a dessert prepared with spoiled cherries.[6] She had one daughter, Yvonne, who was born in 1898, and a grandson, Frédéric, born in 1926.[3] She outlived her daughter, who died at age 36 in 1934 from pneumonia. Frédéric became a doctor, and Calment outlived him as well after he died in 1963 in a motorcycle accident also at the age of 36.[7] In 1965, aged 90 years and with no heirs, Calment signed a deal to sell her former apartment to lawyer André-François Raffray, on a contingency contract. Raffray, then aged 47 years, agreed to pay her a monthly sum of 2,500 francs until she died, an agreement sometimes called a "reverse mortgage". Raffray ended up paying Calment the equivalent of more than $180,000, which was more than double the apartment's value. After Raffray's death from cancer at the age of 77, in 1995, his widow continued the payments until Calment's death.[1]


Calment at age 60 in 1935


In 1985, Calment moved into a nursing home, having lived on her own until age 110.[1] Her international fame escalated in 1988, when the centenary of Vincent van Gogh's visit to Arles provided an occasion to meet reporters. She said at the time that she had met Van Gogh 100 years before (though this is contested), i.e. in 1888, as a thirteen-year-old girl in her uncle's fabric shop, where he wanted to buy some canvas, later describing him as "dirty, badly dressed and disagreeable", and "very ugly, ungracious, impolite, sick".[1][7] Calment recalled selling coloured pencils to Van Gogh, and seeing the Eiffel Tower being built.[8] At the age of 114, she appeared briefly in the 1990 film Vincent and Me as herself, making her the oldest actress ever. A documentary film about her life, entitled Beyond 120 Years with Jeanne Calment, was released by Daiei on 17 November 1995.[9] On 19 February 1996, just two days before her 121st birthday, Tokuma Japan Communications released Time's Mistress, a four-track CD of Calment speaking over a background of rap and hip hop.[10] On her 122nd birthday on 21 February 1997, it was announced that she would make no more public appearances, as her health had seriously deteriorated. She died on 4 August later that same year.[9]

After her 1988 interview, at age 113, Calment was given the Guinness title "world's oldest living person". However, in 1989, the title was withdrawn and given to Carrie C. White of Florida, who was claimed to have been born in 1874, although this has been disputed by subsequent census research.[11] On White's death on 14 February 1991, Calment, then a week shy of 116, became the oldest recognized living person.[12] On 17 October 1995 Calment reached 120 years and 238 days to become the "oldest person ever" according to Guinness, surpassing Shigechiyo Izumi of Japan, whose own claim (120 years 237 days old at the time of his death in 1986) has also been subject to considerable doubt.[9] If the cases of Shigechiyo Izumi and Carrie White are discounted, Calment is the first person documented to reach 115 years of age. She is also the only person to have undisputedly lived for 120 years (and beyond). During the last two years of her life - from the death of Tane Ikai on 12 July 1995, Jeanne Calment was more than five and a half years older than any other living human being (at the time Canadian woman Marie-Louise Meilleur, born in August 1880, was the second oldest). That age gap between the oldest living and the second oldest living is a record. Following Calment's death on 4 August 1997, then 116-year-old Marie-Louise Meilleur became the oldest living recognized person.[12]

Health and lifestyleEdit


Calment at age 113 in 1988.

Calment's remarkable health presaged her later record. At age 85, she took up fencing, and at 100, she was still riding a bicycle. She was reportedly neither athletic, nor fanatical about her health.[8] Calment lived on her own until shortly before her 110th birthday, when it was decided that she needed to be moved to a nursing home after a cooking accident (she could barely see) started a small fire in her flat. However, Calment was still in good shape, and was able to walk until she fractured her femur during a fall at age 114 years and 11 months, which required surgery.[3][11] After her operation, Calment needed to use a wheelchair. She weighed 45 kilograms (99 lb) in 1994.[13] Calment became ill with influenza shortly before her 116th birthday.[14] She smoked until the age of 117, only five years before her death.[14][1] Calment smoked from the age of 21 (1896), though according to an unspecified source, Calment smoked no more than two cigarettes per day.[15] She ascribed her longevity and relatively youthful appearance for her age to olive oil, which she said she poured on all her food and rubbed onto her skin, as well as a diet of port wine, and ate nearly one kilo of chocolate every week.[10]

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