Ms. Jeanne Louise Calment was born in Arles (France) on February 21, 1875, a year before the battle of Little Big Horn, and a year before Alexander Bell patented the phone.
She died at the age of 122, 5 months and 14 days, and she still represents the person who has lived the longest life in history. At least, according to official records.
But this is not the most relevant thing in the very long life of the French lady, much more amazing is how she got to that old age. Jeanne spent her life doing almost everything that doctors advise against if you want to live a long life. She smoked, she drank, she played with guns, she ate excessive amounts of sugar and red meat, and she never ate breakfast, save for a cup or two of coffee. She certainly enjoyed a fairly comfortable life, during which she did different types of physical activity such as swimming, tennis, skating, cycling (until he was 100 years old), also engaging in pleasant hobbies, such as playing the piano and making music with friends, go hunting with her husband and climb frozen mountains.
She was clear-minded until the end, keeping the memory of when she met Vincent Van Gogh, at 13 years old, who went to buy canvases and brushes in her uncle’s shop (she said he was “ugly” and “ruined by the alcohol”). Sometimes she was tormented, wondering why she was the only living person in her family: over the years her husband passed away, but also her only daughter, who died of pneumonia at 36 years old, and the grandson raised by her, who disappeared at 34 years old for a car accident.
It was on the occasion of the centenary of Van Gogh’s arrival in Arles, in 1988, that Jeanne became a celebrity: the journalists, who arrived in the city for the anniversary, interviewed her to be told about the meeting with the painter, which happened exactly one century first, in 1888.
In addition to the chance meeting with the famous painter, journalists could tell other interesting things about the lady: she had lived alone up to 109 years, when she had resigned herself to moving to a rest home.
Throughout her long, long life, from her birth to her death, Jeanne Calment broke several records, all of them after she had spent a century on earth.
At 111, she became the oldest living person in France, and at 113, became the oldest living person in the world. At 114, she became the oldest actress to ever appear on film, when she had a brief spot in the 1990 film Vincent and Me. At 115 she still walked without the aid of a stick. At 116, she became the first person ever to live to 116, and at 120 she became the oldest person ever verified to exceed 120 years, as well as released her first music record, a funk/rap track called “Mistress of Time.” Finally, at 122, she was granted the title of the oldest person ever.
There is a curious episode, which she commented “In life, sometimes you do bad business”, on the strange consequences of longevity: in 1965, when Jeanne was 90 and no heir, she agreed with a 47-year-old lawyer who bought , with a formula similar to bare ownership, the elderly lady’s apartment. Unfortunately for him, he never managed to enter the house: the man died in 1995, two years before Jeanne!
She attributed her long life and youthful glow to her diet and active lifestyle. Every day of her old age, roughly from age 85 onward, she would wake at 6:45 a.m. and start her day with prayer. Then, she’d sit in her armchair and do gymnastics while wearing headphones, which included arm and leg exercises, and finger flexing. Then she’d shower, without any help, and finish getting ready by dousing her body in olive oil. For lunch, she’d have braised beef, eschewing the healthier fish options, and a cigarette, with a glass of Port. She often complained about her bland foods, and frequently requested fried, spicy foods. Until she was 116 years old, she’d finish all meals with a dessert, usually eating about two pounds of chocolate per week.
When she could, she’d cover her meals in olive oil, attributing her health to an abundance of it, inside and out.
She stopped smoking when she was 120 years old, and only because, now practically blind, she was no longer able to light her cigarette alone … She also gave up her glass of wine, on the advice of the doctor, and perhaps these small privations made her confess, on his 122nd birthday: “I’ve had enough,” she said very clearly.
And so it was. Jeanne Calment died, for unspecified causes, at 10am on August, 4 1997.
Images from web.