Calment celebrating her 121st birthday in 1996
|Born||Jeanne Louise Calment
21 February 1875
|Died||4 August 1997
(aged 122 years, 164 days)
|Spouse(s)||Fernand Calment (lived: 1868–1942; married: 1896–1942)|
Jeanne Louise Calment (French pronunciation: [ʒan lwiz kalmɑ̃]; 21 February 1875 – 4 August 1997) was a French supercentenarian who has the longest confirmed human lifespan on record, living to the age of 122 years, 164 days. She lived in Arles, France, for her entire life, outliving both her daughter and grandson by several decades. Calment became especially well known from the age of 113, when the centenary of Vincent van Gogh's visit brought reporters to Arles. Her lifespan has been thoroughly documented by scientific study.
Calment was born in Arles on 21 February 1875. Her father, Nicolas Calment (28 January 1838 – 22 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, although none lived anywhere near as long as Jeanne: her older brother François lived to the age of 97, her father to six days shy of 93, and her mother to 86.
In 1896, at the age of 21, she married her double second cousin, Fernand Nicolas Calment, a wealthy store owner. Their paternal grandfathers were brothers, hence the same surname, and their paternal grandmothers were also sisters. His wealth made it possible for Calment never to have to work; instead she led a leisured lifestyle, pursuing hobbies such as tennis, cycling, swimming, rollerskating, piano, and opera. Fernand died in 1942 at the age of 73 after suffering from a bout of food poisoning.
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 on her 36th birthday from pneumonia, after which Calment raised Frédéric herself. Frédéric became a doctor, but died at age 36 in an automobile accident on 13 August 1963.
In 1965, at age 90 and with no heirs, Calment signed a deal to sell her 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 (€381.12) until she died. Raffray ended up paying Calment the equivalent of more than €140,000 which was 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, Calment moved into a nursing home, having lived on her own until age 110. On June 20, 1986, she 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 father'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". Calment recalled selling coloured pencils to Van Gogh, and seeing the Eiffel Tower being built. At the age of 114, she appeared briefly in the 1990 film Vincent and Me as herself, becoming the oldest actress ever to appear in a motion picture.
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 her 122nd birthday on 21 February 1997, it was announced that she would make no more public appearances, as her health had seriously deteriorated. Jean-Marie Robine, the French demographer and gerontologist, said that this "allowed her to die, as the attention had kept her alive." She died on 4 August of that same year of unknown causes.
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.
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 claimed to have been born in 1874, although this was discounted by subsequent census research. On White's death on 14 February 1991, Calment, then a week shy of 116, became the oldest recognized living person, though there are claims that older people were alive at the time, or at other times (see Longevity claims and Longevity myths).
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.
Health and lifestyle
Calment's remarkable health presaged her later record. At age 85 (1960), she took up fencing, and continued to ride her bicycle up until her 100th birthday (1975). She was reportedly neither athletic nor fanatical about her health. 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 starting a small fire in her house, caused by a cooking accident, which has been attributed to complications with sight. However, Calment was still in good shape, and continued to walk until she fractured her femur during a fall at age 114 years 11 months (January 1990), which required surgery.
Calment smoked 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. After her operation, Calment needed to use a wheelchair. In 1994, age 119, she weighed 45 kilograms (99 lb).
Calment ascribed her longevity and relatively youthful appearance for her age to a diet rich in olive oil (which she also rubbed onto her skin), as well as a diet of port wine, and ate nearly one kilogram (2.2 lb) of chocolate every week. She also credited her calmness, saying, "That's why they call me Calment." Calment reportedly remained mentally intact until her very end.
On 4 August 1997, around 10 AM Central European Time, Calment died at age 122 of natural causes. After her death, 116-year-old Marie-Louise Meilleur became the oldest recognized living person.
Exceeding any other longevity case reported, Calment establishes the record as the most verifiable supercentenarian ever recorded. Beginning with the 1876 census (Calment is listed as a one-year-old), she was indexed within fourteen census documents until 1975 (conducted sometime after she celebrated her 100th birthday). She was still managing independently at the time.
- Jiroemon Kimura, the oldest verified male to have ever lived (died 2013)
- List of French supercentenarians
- List of the verified oldest people
- Longevity claims
- Longevity myths
- Maximum life span
- Oldest people
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- Allard, Michel; Lebre, Victor; Robine, Jean-Marie; Calment, Jeanne (1998). Jeanne Calment: From Van Gogh's Time to Ours : 122 Extraordinary Years. New York: W.H. Freeman. ISBN 0-7167-3251-3.
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