Jeanne Louise Calment (French: [ʒan lwiz kalmɑ̃]; 21 February 1875 – 4 August 1997) was a French supercentenarian from Arles, and the oldest human whose age was well-documented, with a lifespan of 122 years and 164 days. Her longevity attracted media attention and medical studies of her health and lifestyle.
According to census records, Calment outlived both her daughter and grandson. In 1988, at age 112, she was widely reported to have been the oldest living person, and in 1995, at age 120, was declared the oldest person to have ever lived up to that point. During her life and after her death, medical researchers have taken many studies into her health and lifestyle, and how it may have affected her statistically anomalous age. Conversely, some researchers have challenged Calment's extreme age due to statistical unlikelihood, and have examined the possibility that her daughter Yvonne may have assumed Calment's identity in 1934. Other researchers have dismissed this hypothesis on the basis of extensive prior research into Calment's life.
Calment was born in Arles, Bouches-du-Rhône, Provence, 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 brother lived to the age of 97, her father to 93, and her mother to 86.
From the age of seven until her first communion, she attended Mrs Benet's church primary school in Arles, and then the local collège (secondary school), finishing at 16 with the brevet classique diploma (O-level). 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 coffee with milk, 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. In the following years, she continued to live with her parents, awaiting marriage, painting, and improving her piano skills.:27–32
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, and their paternal grandmothers were sisters. He had reportedly started courting her when she was 15, but she was "too young to be interested in boys".:4–21 Fernand was heir to a drapery business located in a classic Provençal-style building in the center of Arles, and the couple moved into a spacious apartment above the family store. Jeanne employed servants and never had to work; she led a leisurely lifestyle within the upper society of Arles, pursuing hobbies such as fencing, cycling, tennis, swimming, rollerskating ("I fell flat on my face"), playing the piano and making music with friends.:4–21 In the summer, the couple would stay at Uriage for mountaineering on the glacier. ("Even at 16 I had good legs.") They also went hunting for rabbits and wild boars in the hills of Provence, using an "18mm rifle". Calment said she disliked shooting birds.:4–21 She gave birth to her only child, a daughter named Yvonne Marie Nicolle Calment, on 19 January 1898. Yvonne married army officer Joseph Billot on 3 February 1926, and their only son, Frédéric, was born on 23 December of the same year.
Yvonne Calment died of pleurisy on 19 January 1934, her 36th birthday, after which Jeanne raised Frédéric, although he lived with his father in the neighbouring apartment. World War II had little effect on Jeanne's life. She said that German soldiers slept in her rooms but "did not take anything away", so that she bore no grudge against them. In 1942, her husband Fernand died, aged 73, reportedly of cherry poisoning.:4–21 By the 1954 census, she was still registered in the same apartment, together with her son-in-law, retired Colonel Billot, Yvonne's widower; the census documents list Jeanne as "mother" in 1954 and "widow" in 1962. Frédéric Billot lived next door with his wife Renée. Her brother François died in 1962, aged 97. Her son-in-law Joseph died in January 1963, and her grandson Frédéric died in an automobile accident in August of the same year.
In 1965, aged 90 and with no heirs left, Calment signed a life estate contract on her apartment with notary public André-François Raffray, selling the property in exchange for a right of occupancy and a monthly revenue of 2,500 francs (€380) until her death. Raffray died in 1995, by which time Calment had received more than double the apartment's value from him, and his family had to continue making payments. Calment commented on the situation by saying, "in life, one sometimes makes bad deals". In 1985, she moved into a nursing home, having lived on her own until age 110. 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.
Oldest human ever documented
In 1986 Jeanne Calment became the oldest living person in France at the age of 111. Her profile increased during the centennial of Vincent van Gogh's move to Arles, which occurred from February 1888 to April 1889 when she was 13–14 years old. Calment claimed to reporters that she had met Van Gogh at that time, introduced to him by her (future) husband in her uncle's shop. She remembered the meeting as a disappointment, and described him as ugly and "very disagreeable", adding that he "reeked of alcohol". She was recognised by Guinness World Records as the world's oldest living person when she was 112. At the age of 114, she briefly appeared in the 1990 documentary film Vincent and Me, walking outside and answering questions. Her profile further increased when Guinness named her the oldest person ever in 1995. Far exceeding any other verified human lifespan, Calment was widely reckoned the best-documented supercentenarian ever recorded. For example, she was listed in fourteen census records, beginning in 1876 as a one-year-old infant. After Calment's death, at 122 years and 164 days, 116-year-old Marie-Louise Meilleur became the oldest validated living person. Several claims to have surpassed Calment's age were made, but no such case was proven. For over two decades, Calment has held the status of the oldest-ever human being whose age was validated by modern standards.
In 1994, the city of Arles inquired about Calment's personal documents, in order to contribute to the city archives. However, reportedly on Calment's instructions, her documents and family photographs were selectively burned by a distant family member, Josette Bigonnet, a cousin of her grandson. The verification of her age began in 1995 when she turned 120, and was conducted over a full year. She was asked questions about documented details concerning relatives, and about people and places from her early life, for instance teachers or maids. A great deal of emphasis was put on a series of documents from population censuses, in which Calment was named from 1876 to 1975. The family's membership in the local Catholic bourgeoisie helped researchers find corroborating chains of documentary evidence. Calment's father had been a member of the city council, and her husband owned a large drapery and clothing business. The family lived in two apartments located in the same building as the store, one for Calment, her husband and his mother, one for their daughter Yvonne, her husband and their child. Several house servants were registered in the premises as well.
Popular media reports
Apocryphal media articles reported varying details, some of them unlikely. One report claimed that Calment recalled selling coloured pencils to Van Gogh, and seeing the Eiffel Tower being built. Another wrote that she started fencing in 1960, aged 85. Calment reportedly ascribed her longevity and relatively youthful appearance for her age to a diet rich in olive oil.
Skepticism regarding age
Demographers have highlighted that Calment's age is an outlier, her lifespan being several years longer than the next oldest people ever documented (where the differences are usually by months or even weeks). Over the course of time there have been various theories brought forward about the authenticity of her age. In 2018, Russian gerontologist Valery Novoselov and mathematician Nikolay Zak revived the theory that Calment died in 1934 and her daughter Yvonne, born in 1898, assumed her mother's official identity and was therefore 99 years old when she died in 1997. A Russian scientific journal rejected Zak's paper as being too informal, as did the bioRxiv preprint repository, and Zak published it instead on ResearchGate, a social networking site for scientists and researchers. The theory attracted widespread media attention around 30 December 2018 after postings by gerontology blogger Yuri Deigin went viral. In January 2019, Zak's paper was accepted for publication in the journal Rejuvenation Research.
Jean-Marie Robine, a French gerontologist and one of two validators of Calment, dismissed the claims and pointed out that during his research Calment had correctly answered questions about things that her daughter could not have known. Robine also dismissed the idea that the residents of Arles could have been duped by the switch. Michel Allard, the second doctor who helped verify Calment's records, said that the team had considered the identity switch theory while Jeanne was still alive because she looked younger than her daughter in photographs, but similar discrepancies in the rates of aging are commonly found in families with centenarian members. Allard and Robine also pointed out the existence of numerous documents relating to Calment's activities throughout her life, and that the Russians brought no evidence forward to support their hypothesis.
After a meeting of the National Institute for Demographic Studies (INED) in Paris on 23 January 2019, French, Swiss, and Belgian longevity experts concluded that none of the Russian claimants provided any proof of an identity substitution, and they also announced that further research would be launched. The Washington Post, after consulting several experts, noted that "statistically improbable is not the same thing as statistically impossible". The Russian claims are generally dismissed by the overwhelming majority of scientists, finding the Russian paper to be "lacking, if not outright deficient". In September 2019, several French scientists, including Robine and Allard, released a paper in The Journals of Gerontology where they contest the various claims made by Zak and his colleagues and point out various inaccuracies in the paper. The team presented evidence to support Calment's age—including multiple official documents, census data and photographic evidence—and also argued that it was indeed statistically possible to reach Calment's age. The authors criticised the advocates of the identity switch hypothesis, and called for a retraction of Zak's article.
In February 2020, Zak and Philip Gibbs published an assessment applying Bayes' theorem to the question of her authenticity, claiming "a 99.99% chance of an identity switch in the case of Mme Calment". François Robin-Champigneul and Robert Young commented on Zak's and Gibb's findings, Robin-Champigneul noting that it "appears to be in fact a subjective and nonrigorous analysis" and Young that "[i]gnoring the actual facts of the case and stringing together opinions in a 'Bayesian' analysis are to merely misuse a mathematical tool". Young found that "a very solid case that Jeanne was 122 years has already been made" but that biosampling still was needed to test "for biomarkers of extraordinary longevity". Robin-Champigneul found that "the hypothesis of an identity swap with her daughter appears not even realistic given the context and the facts, and not supported by evidence".
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). At age 20, incipient cataracts were discovered when she suffered a major episode of conjunctivitis.:22–42 She married at 21, and her husband's wealth allowed her to live without ever working. All her life she took care of her skin with olive oil and a puff of powder.:15–18 At an unspecified time in her youth, she had suffered from migraines.:1–13 Her husband introduced her to smoking, offering cigarettes (or cigars:4–21) after meals, but she did not smoke more. ("After the meal, after just one, I'd had enough of it".):65–74 Calment continued smoking in her elderly years, until she was 117.:65–74 At "retirement age" she broke her ankle, but before that had never suffered any major injuries.:15–18 She continued cycling until her hundredth birthday.:4–21 Around age 100, she fractured her leg, but recovered quickly and was able to walk again.:1–13:22–42
After her brother, her son-in-law and her grandson died in 1962–63, Calment had no remaining family members. She 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 to her hands.:4–21 According to one of her doctors, she had been quite healthy until she moved to the nursing home, and only began showing signs of aging during her stay.
After her admission to the Maison du Lac nursing home in January 1985, aged 109, Calment initially followed a highly ritualised daily routine. She requested to be awoken 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. She sometimes loudly asked 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. Nurses noted that she moved faster than other residents who were 30 years younger. Her breakfast consisted of coffee with milk and rusks.
She washed herself unassisted with a flannel cloth rather than taking a shower, 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. She had dessert with every meal, and said that given a choice she would eat fried and spicy foods instead of the bland foods on the menu.:85–92 She made herself daily fruit salads with bananas and oranges. She enjoyed chocolate, sometimes indulging in a kilogram (2.2 lb) per week. After the meal, she smoked a Dunhill cigarette and drank a small amount of port wine. 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 poor eyesight preventing her from enjoying her crosswords pastime), smoke a last cigarette and go to bed at 10:00 pm.:4–21:85–92 On Sundays she went to Mass, and on Fridays to Vespers, and regularly conversed with and sought help from God, and wondered about the afterlife.:107–112
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, and the second presents her medical history. She stated that she had been vaccinated as a child but could not remember which vaccine(s). Apart from aspirin against migraines she had never taken any medicine, not even herbal teas. She did not contract German measles, chickenpox, or urinary infections, and was not prone to hypertension or diabetes. In April 1986, aged 111, she was sent to hospital for heart failure and treated with digoxin. Later she suffered from arthropathy in the ankles, elbows, and wrists, which was successfully treated with anti-inflammatory medication. Her arterial blood pressure was 140mm/70mm, her pulse 84/min. Her height was 150 cm (4 ft 11 in), and her weight 45 kg (99 lb), showing little variation from previous years. She scored well on mental tests, except on numeric tasks and recall of recent events.
Analysis of her blood samples were in normal ranges between ages 111–114, with no signs of dehydration, anemia, chronic infection or renal impairment. Genetic analysis of the HLA system revealed the presence of the DR1 allele, common among centenarians. A cardiological assessment revealed a moderate left ventricular hypertrophy with a mild left atrial dilatation and extrasystolic arrhythmia. Radiology revealed diffuse osteoporosis, as well as incipient osteoarthritis in the right hip. An ultrasound exam showed no anomalies of internal organs.:22–42 At this stage, Calment was still in good health, and continued to walk without a cane.:22–42 She fell in January 1990 (aged 114) and fractured her femur, which required surgery. Subsequently, Calment used a wheelchair,:1–13 and she abandoned her daily routine.:85–92
At the age of 115, Calment attracted the attention of researchers Jean-Marie Robine and Dr. Michel Allard, who collaborated with her attending doctor, Dr. Victor Lèbre, to interview her, verify her age and identify factors promoting her longevity. According to their year-long analysis, Calment's vision was severely impaired by bilateral cataracts, yet she refused to undergo a routine operation to restore her eyesight; she had a moderately weak heart, a chronic cough ("caused no doubt by her previous use of tobacco"), and bouts of rheumatism. On the other hand, her digestion was always good, she slept well, and did not have incontinence. During the last years, she was 137 cm (4 ft 6 in) tall, and weighed 40 kg (88 lb); she confirmed that she had always been small, and had lost weight in recent years. Her eyes were light grey, and her white hair had once been chestnut brown.:1–13
At the age of 118, she was submitted to repeated neurophysiological tests and a CT scan. The tests showed that her verbal memory and language fluency were comparable to those 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 observed to improve slightly over the six-month period. Calment reportedly remained "mentally sharp" until the end of her life.
Supercentenarian clinical study
Bertrand Jeune, Robine, and other researchers compared Jeanne Calment with nearly 20 people worldwide who had been verified to have reached at least 115 years of age. They concluded that the lives of these people differed widely and that they had just a few common traits: most of them were female (only two were male), most smoked little or not at all, and they had never been obese. They all had exhibited strong characters, but not all were domineering personalities. Although they aged slowly, all became very frail and their physical fitness declined markedly, especially after age 105. 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."
Calment died of unspecified causes on 4 August 1997 around 10 a.m. The New York Times quoted Robine as stating that she had been in good health, though almost blind and deaf, as recently as a month before her death.
- Jiroemon Kimura (1897–2013), the oldest man whose age was verified
- List of French supercentenarians
- List of the verified oldest people
- Maximum life span
- Lists of oldest people
- In a 1988 Paris Match interview, this photograph was labeled "Jeanne Calment, then 22 years old, in 1897" (Jeanne Calment, alors âgée de 22 ans, en 1897). In a biography of Calment published in 1995, the photograph was correctly labeled "Jeanne Calment's daughter Yvonne" (Yvonne, la fille de Jeanne Calment), but undated. On the Gerontology Research Group's gallery of Calment's pictures, it was captioned "At age ~22" between 2007 and 2018, and was corrected after Russian researchers contacted the GRG.
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Overnight, Fernand Calment would have passed his daughter off for his wife and everyone would have kept silent? It is staggering.
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More than once, she surprised her entourage by her digestive abilities; she said herself 'I have the stomach of an ostrich!' which did not prevent her from appreciating good things. She showed herself more than once capable of absorbing considerable quantities of chocolate: more than a kilo per week.
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- calment (1875-) Works about Jeanne Calment at Open Library
- Works by or about Jeanne Calment in libraries (WorldCat catalog)
- Collins, Lauren (10 February 2020). "WAS JEANNE CALMENT THE OLDEST PERSON WHO EVER LIVED—OR A FRAUD?". The New Yorker. New York City. Archived from the original on 11 February 2020.