Calment celebrating her 121st birthday in 1996
Jeanne Louise Calment
21 February 1875
|Died||4 August 1997 (aged 122 years, 164 days)|
|Height||1.50 m (4 ft 11 in)|
(m. 1896; died 1942)
Jeanne Louise Calment (French: [ʒan lwiz kalmɑ̃]; 21 February 1875 – 4 August 1997) was a French woman from Arles widely reported to have been a supercentenarian and the oldest human whose age was well-documented, with a lifespan of 122 years and 164 days.
According to various records, Calment outlived both her daughter and grandson. She became the oldest living person on 11 January 1988 at 112, one hundred years after encountering Vincent van Gogh, who visited her uncle's shop. She was declared the oldest person ever on 17 October 1995 at 120.
Although Calment came from a long-living family, there is no particular explanation for her longevity. She had lived a comfortable and stress-free life, with a healthy appetite and a daily exercise routine, enabling her to walk without a stick until the age of 114.
A November 2018 study advanced the hypothesis that Calment's daughter Yvonne usurped her identity in 1934, so that Jeanne actually died at age 59 and Yvonne, posing as Jeanne, was 99 years old upon her death in 1997.
- 1 Early life
- 2 Personal life
- 3 Recognition and registration as record-breaker
- 4 Health and lifestyle
- 5 Death
- 6 See also
- 7 References
- 8 Further reading
- 9 External links
Calment was born in Arles, Bouches-du-Rhône, Southern France on 21 February 1875. Her father, Nicolas Calment (8 November 1837– 28 January 1931), was a shipbuilder, and her mother, Marguerite Gilles (20 February 1838 – 18 September 1924), was from a family of millers. She had an older brother, François (25 April 1865 – 1 December 1962). Some of her close family members also lived an above-average lifespan, her older brother François lived to the age of 97, her father to 93, and her mother to 86.
From the age of seven until her first holy communion, Jeanne Calment attended Madame Benet's church primary school in Arles, and then attended the local college, finishing at the age of 16 with the diploma brevet Classique, after which she continued to live with her parents, awaiting marriage, painting, and improving her piano skills. On 8 April 1896, at the age of 21, she married her double second cousin, Fernand Nicolas Calment (1868–1942). Their paternal grandfathers were brothers, hence the same surname and their paternal grandmothers were also sisters. Fernand was a wealthy shop owner and she moved into the apartments above his shop Grands Magasins de Nouveautés, where she lived until the age of 110. Thanks to his wealth, Jeanne never had to work; she led a leisured lifestyle within the upper society of Arles, pursuing hobbies such as fencing, cycling (at Saint-Rémy-de-Provence), tennis, swimming, rollerskating at Alyscamps, playing the piano and making music with friends.
In the summer, the couple would stay at Uriage for mountaineering all the way up to the glacier. She also went hunting with her husband in the hills of the Provence to shoot rabbits and wild boars, but disliked killing birds. She considered the most important historical event in her lifetime to have been the Russian Revolution of 1917 and the execution of the Russian imperial family, a view shared by many fellow centenarians. The Second World War had little effect on her life in the south of France. German soldiers slept in her rooms but she bore no grudge against them because "they did not take anything away". In 1942, Fernand ate cherries treated with copper sulfate the day before, developed jaundice, and died of the poisoning in the course of one and a half months on 2 October 1942 at the age of 73. Jeanne had eaten fewer of the cherries and survived.
Their only child, a daughter named Yvonne Marie Nicolle Calment (19 January 1898 – 19 January 1934), produced a grandson, Frédéric Billiot, on 23 December 1926. Yvonne died from pneumonia, after which Calment raised Frédéric herself. Frédéric became a doctor, and lived with her until his death in an automobile accident in 1963.
In 1965, at age 90 and with no heirs, Calment signed a contract to sell her apartment to lawyer André-François Raffray, retaining a life estate. Raffray, then aged 47 years, agreed to pay her a monthly sum of 2,500 francs (€381.12) until she died. Raffray ended up paying Calment the equivalent of more than €140,000, more than double the apartment's value. After Raffray's death from cancer at the age of 77, in 1995, his family continued the payments until Calment's death. Calment's comment on this situation was reported to be, "In life, one sometimes makes bad deals." During all these years, Calment used to say to them that she "competed with Methuselah". In 1985, she moved into a nursing home, having lived on her own until age 110.
Recognition and registration as record-breaker
On 20 June 1986 Jeanne Calment became the oldest living person in France at the age of 111 when Eugenie Roux died. 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, in 1888, as a thirteen-year-old girl in her uncle's shop, where he bought some canvas, later describing him as "ugly" (laid), "blighted by alcohol" (brûlé par l'alcool), and visiting brothels (il fréquentait des maisons de tolérance).
After her 1988 interview, at age 112, Calment was given the Guinness World Records title for the world's ‘Oldest person (living)’ upon the death of Florence Knapp on 11 January 1988. In 1989, however, the title was withdrawn and given to Carrie C. White of Florida, who claimed to have been born in 1874, although this was discounted by subsequent census research. Upon White's death on 14 February 1991, Calment, then a week shy of 116, became recognized as the oldest living person, though there are unverified claims that older people were alive at the time (see Longevity claims and Longevity myths).
A documentary film about her life, entitled Beyond 120 Years with Jeanne Calment, was released in 1995. In 1996, Time's Mistress, a four-track CD of Calment speaking over a background of rap, was released.
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 claim (120 years 237 days old at the time of his death on 21 February 1986, which was Calment's 111th birthday) was discounted in February 2011, more than thirteen years after Calment's death.
Exceeding any other longevity case reported, Calment establishes the record as the most verifiable supercentenarian ever recorded. For example, beginning with the 1876 census (Calment is listed as a one-year-old), she was indexed in fourteen census documents until 1975.
After her death, 116-year-old Marie-Louise Meilleur became the oldest recognized living person. Both before and after Calment's death, there have been several claims to have surpassed her age (see Unverified longevity claims), but none of these have been proven and Calment therefore continues to hold the record for the oldest verified person ever.
In November 2018, Russian gerontologist Valery Novoselov and mathematician Nikolay Zak advanced the hypothesis that Calment's daughter Yvonne usurped her identity in 1934, by claiming that the daughter died instead of the mother, thus avoiding payment of estate tax. As Yvonne was born in 1898, this situation would have made the purported Jeanne 99 years old upon her death in 1997. This would explain the statistically unlikely difference of several years between Calment's documented age and the next dozens of oldest persons ever recorded. In particular, a picture of Yvonne, dressed in traditional costume in front of a church portal, was wrongly labeled "Calment at age 22 in 1897" for several years.[unreliable source?][better source needed]
Health and lifestyle
Calment's remarkable health presaged her later record. On television she stated J'ai jamais été malade, jamais, jamais (I have never been ill, never ever). Asked about her daily routine while at primary school, she replied that "when you are young you get up at eight o'clock". In lieu of a solid breakfast she would have either white coffee or hot chocolate, and at noon her father would pick her up from school to have lunch at home before she returned to school for the afternoon.
At age 15 her cousin and eventual husband started courting her, but she was too young to be interested in boys and preferred sweets. At age 20, incipient cataracts were discovered when she suffered a major episode of conjunctivitis. After marriage at 21, her husband's wealth made it possible for Calment never to have to work. They led an active life including fencing, cycling (at Saint-Rémy-de-Provence), tennis, swimming, rollerskating at Alyscamps ("I fell flat on my face"), and playing the piano and making music with friends. In the summer, the couple would stay at Uriage for mountaineering up to the glacier ("Even at 16 I had good legs"). She also went hunting with her husband in the hills of the Provence to shoot rabbits and wild boars. Her husband introduced her to smoking, offering cigarettes after a meal, but it was not her passion. ("After the meal, after just one, I'd had enough of it".) Calment is known to have smoked in her elderly years, and is claimed to have smoked tobacco cigarettes from the age of 21 (1896) to 117 (1992). According to one source, she smoked no more than two cigarettes per day and it is not known whether she inhaled, whereas an earlier medical source states that she smoked cigars with her husband before changing to cigarettes more recently.
All her life she took care of her skin with olive oil and a puff of powder to finish off. On Sundays she went to Mass, and on Fridays to vespers, and regularly conversed with and sought help from God, but expressed skepticism about an afterlife. At an unspecified time in her youth, she had suffered from migraines.
She and her husband sometimes travelled to nearby Marseilles where, at the Phocéen restaurant, they treated themselves to seafood, a glass of white wine, and bread and butter. Unlike her husband she did not enjoy pastries, but she did like creams (crèmes), cakes and in particular quatre-quarts (pound cake), and vanilla ice cream. At "retirement age" she broke her ankle and apart from that had never been ill. She continued cycling until her hundredth birthday. Around her hundredth year she fractured her leg but recovered quickly and was able to walk again.
After the death of her grandson in August 1963, Calment lived on her own from age 88 until shortly before her 110th birthday, when she decided to move to a nursing home. Her move was precipitated by the winter of 1985 which froze the water pipes in her house (she never used heating in the winter) and caused frostbite in her hands. According to one of her doctors, she had formerly been healthy but began showing signs of senescence (or aging) at this point.
Daily routine at ages 111–114
After her admission to the care home Maison du Lac [House on the Lake] in January 1985 at the age of 109, she initially had a highly ritualized daily routine whereby, uniquely among the care home residents, she requested to be woken at 6:45 am and started the day with a long prayer at her window thanking God for being alive and for the beautiful day which was starting, sometimes loudly asking the reason for her longevity and why she was the only one alive in her family. Seated on her armchair she did gymnastics wearing her stereo headset. Her exercises included flexing and extending the hands ("a distinguished woman must have beautiful hands"), then the legs, and her carers noted that she moved faster than the other residents, who were 30 years younger, despite her blindness. Her breakfast consisted of coffee with milk, and rusks.
Her morning ablutions included washing herself unassisted with a flannel rather than taking a shower ("an odd invention"), and applying first soap, then olive oil and powder to her face. She washed her own glass and cutlery before proceeding to lunch. She enjoyed daube (braised beef) but was not keen on boiled fish. After the meal she smoked a Dunhill cigarette (formerly a cigar, a habit she had acquired from her husband) and drank a small amount of Port wine. She enjoyed chocolate (and at the age of 112 received a delivery of 800 kilogrammes after challenging a TV presenter – this was then distributed to care homes), and made herself daily a fruit salad based on banana slices and squeezed orange.
In the afternoon she would take a nap for two hours in her armchair, and then visit her neighbours in the care home, telling them about the latest news she had heard on the radio. At nightfall she would dine quickly, return to her room, listen to music (her eyesight now being too poor for her favorite pastime of crosswords), smoke a last cigarette and go to bed at 10pm.
Medical examination at ages 111–116
Medical student Georges Garoyan published a thesis on Calment when she was 114 years old in January 1990. The first part records her daily routine (see above), and the second presents her medical history. According to this, she had been vaccinated as a child but could not remember the vaccine. Apart from aspirin against migraines she had never taken medicines, not even herbal teas, and had never had German measles, chickenpox, hypertension, diabetes or urinary infections. Concerning her heart, she presented with a moderate left ventricular dysfunction. In April 1986 at age 111 she was admitted to hospital for heart failure and treated with digoxin. More recently she had presented with arthropathies in the ankles, elbows and wrists which were successfully treated with anti-inflammatory medication. Clinical examination revealed arterial blood pressures of 140mm/70mm, a temperature of 37 Celsius, a pulse of 84/min, a height of 150 cm and a weight of 45 kilogrammes which had varied little in previous years. She scored well on mental tests except on numeric tasks and recall of recent events. Her blood values were normal between ages 111–114, with no signs of dehydration, anaemia, chronic infection or renal impairment. Genetic analysis of the HLA system revealed the presence of the DR1 allele, common among centenarians. The electrocardiogramme revealed left ventricular hypertrophy with a mild left atrial dilatation and extrasystolic arrhythmia. Radiology revealed diffuse osteoporosis and in the right hip, incipient osteoarthritis. Ultrasound revealed no anomalies of internal organs.
At this stage Calment was still in good shape, and continued to walk without a cane until she fractured her femur during a fall at age 114 (January 1990), which required surgery. After her operation, Calment required a wheelchair and abandoned her daily routine.
At the age of 115 she attracted the attention of researchers Jean-Marie Robine and Dr. Michel Allard, who collaborated with Calment's attending doctor, Dr. Victor Lèbre to interview her, verify her age and identify factors promoting her longevity. They analysed her for over a year and reported that Jeanne Calment's vision was severely impaired by bilateral cataracts, yet she refused to have a routine operation to restore her vision; she had a moderately weak heart and a chronic cough ("caused no doubt by her previous use of tobacco") and bouts of rheumatism. On the other hand, she always had good digestion, slept well and had no problems with incontinence. During the last years her height was 4 ft 6 in [137 cm] and her weight was 88 pounds [40 kg]; she confirmed that she had always been small, but she had lost weight in recent years. In terms of pigmentation, her eyes were light gray and her white hair had once been chestnut brown.
Diet at 116
With regards to her diet, the three researchers' interviews revealed that in the care home she said she always had a dessert with every meal. She complained about the blandness of the food in the care home and, given a choice, would wish to order fried and spicy foods. She occasionally ("more than once") feasted on chocolate in her old age: sometimes over a kilogram (2.2 lb) of chocolate per week.
Neurological examination at 118
At the age of 118, over a period of six months, she was submitted to neurophysiological tests and a CT scan. The tests showed that her verbal memory and language fluency was comparable to that of persons with the same level of education in their eighties and nineties. Frontal brain lobe functions were relatively spared from deterioration and there was no evidence of progressive neurological disease, depressive symptoms or other functional illness. Her cognitive functioning was in fact found to improve slightly over the six-month period. Calment reportedly remained mentally intact until the end of her life.
Popular media reports
Apocryphal media articles reported varying details. One report claimed that Calment recalled selling "coloured pencils" to Van Gogh, and seeing the Eiffel Tower being built. Another wrote that she did not start fencing until age 85 (1960). Calment reportedly ascribed her longevity and relatively youthful appearance for her age to a diet rich in olive oil. She is also said to have credited her calmness, saying, "That's why they call me Calment."
Supercentenarian clinical study
Bertrand Jeune, Jean-Marie Robine and colleagues compared Jeanne Calment with a list of nearly 20 people worldwide who had securely been verified to have attained at least 115 years of age. The researchers concluded that the lives of these people differed widely, and that there were but few common characteristics: the overwhelming majority were female (only two were male), most smoked little or not at all, and they had never been obese. They all seem to have had strong characters, but certainly not all were domineering personalities. Although they aged slowly, all became very frail and their physical functions declined markedly, especially after their 105th birthdays. In their final years they required wheelchairs, and were nearly blind and deaf. "But they did not fear death, and they appeared to be reconciled to the fact their lives would soon end".
On her 122nd birthday on 21 February 1997, it was announced that Calment would make no more public appearances, as her health had seriously deteriorated. Demographer Jean-Marie Robine, a co-author of a book about Calment, reportedly said that this "allowed her to die, as the attention had kept her alive", while the New York Times reported Robine to have stated that she had been in good health, though almost blind and deaf, as recently as a month before her death.
- Jiroemon Kimura, the oldest verified male to have ever lived (died 2013)
- List of French supercentenarians
- List of the verified oldest people
- Maximum life span
- Lists of oldest people
- "Validation of Exceptional Longevity – Jeanne Calment: Validation of the Duration of Her Life". Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research. Retrieved 4 August 2008.
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- Garoyan, Georges (1990). Cent-quatorze ans de vie ou la longue histoire de Jeanne Calment, doyenné d'âge de France [One Hundred and Fourteen Years of Life or the Long History of Jeanne Calment, the Eldest of France]. Marseille: Université d'Aix-Marseille II. pp. 4–21.
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- Jeanne Calment on IMDb
- Jeanne Calment discography at MusicBrainz
- Image gallery of Jeanne Calment from aged 20 to aged 122