Jeanne Louise Calment, February 21, 1875 – August 4, 1997, was a French supercentenarian with the longest confirmed human lifespan in history, living to the age of 122 years, 164 days. She lived in Arles, France her entire life, outliving both her daughter and grandson by several decades. She holds the record for being the oldest living person in the world for the longest period of time by far – nearly nine years and seven months
At age 90, with no heirs, Calment signed a deal to sell her former 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 until she died. Raffray ended up paying Calment the equivalent of more than $180,000, more than double the apartment’s value. After Raffray’s death at the age of 77 in 1995, his widow continued the payments until Calment’s death. During all these years, Calment used to say she “competed with Methuselah.”
Calment met Van Gogh in 1888 as a thirteen-year-old girl in her uncle’s fabric shop where he wanted to buy some canvas. She described him as “dirty, badly dressed and disagreeable” and “very ugly, ungracious, impolite, sick — I forgive him, they called him loco.” Calment recalled selling colored 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, making her the oldest person ever to appear in a motion picture.
Calment’s remarkable health presaged her later record. At age 85, she took up fencing and continued to ride her bicycle up until her 100th birthday. 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 a cooking accident started a small fire in her house. Calment was still in good shape, and continued to walk until she fractured her femur in a fall at age 114 years 11 months which required surgery.
Calment smoked from the age of 21 to 117 though, according to an unspecified source, she smoked no more than two cigarettes per day. Calment ascribed 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 including port wine in her diet. She also reportedly ate nearly two pounds of chocolate every week. She seemed unflappable and, biologically speaking, immune to stress. She said her motto was, ”If you can’t do anything about it, don’t worry about it.”
Ever the wit, when somebody took leave by telling her, ”Until next year, perhaps,” she retorted: ”I don’t see why not! You don’t look so bad to me.”