Jeanne Calment

Jeanne Calment

Jeanne Louise Calment (February 21, 1875 – August 4, 1997) was a Frenchwoman with the longest confirmed lifespan in history at 122 years and 164 days (44,724 days in total). She lived in Arles, France, for her entire life, and outlived both her daughter and grandson. Because her husband was wealthy, she never worked, instead living a comfortable lifestyle. She became well-known from the age of 113, when the centenary of Vincent van Gogh brought reporters to Arles, as she was the last person living to have met the artist. She entered the Guinness Book of Records in 1988, and in 1993 was declared the oldest person who had ever lived (while discounting the disputed case of Shigechiyo Izumi). Her lifespan 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. 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 1896, she married her second cousin (grandson of her great-uncle) Fernand Calment, a wealthy store owner. His wealth made it possible for Calment never to have to work; instead she led a relaxed lifestyle, pursuing hobbies like tennis, cycling, swimming, rollerskating, piano and opera. Her husband died in 1942 after eating a dessert prepared with spoiled cherries.

She had one daughter, Yvonne, who was born in 1898, and a grandson, Frédéric, born in 1926. 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 due to a motorcycle accident.

In 1965, aged 90, with no living heirs, Jeanne Calment signed a deal to sell her former apartment to lawyer Andrei-François Raffray, on a contingency contract. Raffray, then aged 47, 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 more than the equivalent of $180,000, which was more than double the apartment's value. His widow was still paying Calment until she died, after Raffray had died of cancer at the age of 77.


In 1955, at the age of 80, Calment appeared in a behind-the-scenes short film Vincent Van Gogh: Darkness Into Light, made by MGM, and narrated by producer Dore Schary, to promote Lust for Life (1956), based on the life of Vincent Van Gogh. In the film, she is introduced to star Kirk Douglas as someone who knew Van Gogh.

In 1985, Calment moved into a nursing home, having lived on her own until age 110. Nevertheless, she did not gain international fame until 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, 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".

At the age of 114, she appeared briefly in the 1990 film Vincent and Me as herself, making her the oldest actress ever. A French documentary film about her life, entitled Beyond 120 Years with Jeanne Calment, was released in 1995. In 1996, to celebrate her 121st birthday, a record company released "Time's Mistress", a four-track CD of her speaking over a background of rap and hip hop. After her 122nd birthday, it was decided she should get no more publicity, as her health had seriously deteriorated, and she died five months later.

Record breaking

After her 1988 interview, at age 113, Calment was given the Guinness Records' "world's oldest living person" title. However, in 1990, 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.

On White's death on February 14, 1991, Calment, then a week shy of 116, became the oldest recognized living person. In 1993, she entered the Guinness Book of Records as the oldest living person, whose birthdate could be reliably authenticated. On October 17, 1995 Calment reached 120 years and 238 days to become the Guinness Records' "oldest person ever", surpassing Shigechiyo Izumi of Japan, whose own claim (120 years, 237 days old at his death in 1986) has also been subject to some doubt. If the cases of Shigechiyo Izumi and Carrie White are discounted, Calment is the first person documented to reach 115, 116, 117, 118 and 119 years old. She is also the only person to have undisputedly lived at least 120 years.

Following Calment's death on August 4, 1997, then almost 117-year-old Marie-Louise Meilleur of Canada became the oldest living recognized person in the world.

Health status

Calment's remarkable health presaged her later record. At age 85, she took up fencing, and at 100, she was still riding a bicycle. Jeanne lived on her own until shortly before her 110th birthday, when it was decided that she needed to be moved to a nursing home. However, Jeanne was still in good shape, and was able to walk until a fall at age 114 years and 11 months, which required surgery. She reportedly attributed 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 nearly 2 pounds of chocolate eaten every week. Jeanne Calment smoked until she was 117, and only quit when she could no longer see well enough to light the cigarettes.

See also


Further reading

  • 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.
  • Robine, Jean-Marie; Allard, Michel (1999). Jeanne Calment: Validation of the Duration of Her Life. Odense University Press.

External links

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