Jeanne Calment is commonly known as the person who has lived the longest, reaching 122 years old before her death in 1997. Born on February 21, 1875, she watched the Eiffel Tower being built, she sold blank canvases to Van Gogh for him to paint, she was nearly 40 years old when Archduke Franz Ferdinand was shot (thus kicking off World War I), and she was only three years old when The Horse in Motion, the world’s very first motion picture, was taken. Her legendary longevity is a source of pride for the nation of France, as her record remains completely unbroken even in 2021.
In 1965, when Jeanne was 90, a lawyer by the name of André-François Raffray made a deal with her; he would pay her 2,500 francs a month for as long as she lived, after which he would obtain her apartment. While this system was common in France at the time, it equated to a bet against her future longevity; this proved to be a very poor choice, as she lived longer than he did.
While her brain was surely affected by her advanced age, she never suffered from senility. While her body deterioriated, and she suffered from a broken femur that left her wheelchair-bound, she did not experience excessive cognitive decline, such as is found in Alzheimer’s, before her death.
Jeanne is reported to have followed much, but not all, of the standard advice regarding longevity. She ate a healthy diet rich in olive oil and engaged in regular physical activity, although she had a fondness for chocolate and even cigarettes, the latter of which is inadvisable for anyone attempting to live a long and healthy life.
However, there is evidence that her longevity record is the result of a deception. Some investigators, whom we have interviewed on our site, have determined that Jeanne Calment actually died in 1934 and was replaced by her daughter, Yvonne Calment, in order to evade inheritance taxes. This version of events is supported by facial features that are based on skull shape and do not change over time, relationships between members of her family, other people’s judgments of her age from pictures, and her abilities at certain ages. There is also evidence that the woman calling herself Jeanne Calment ordered the destruction of family archives in order to hide the deception. This is a heavily disputed topic among the gerontological community, and there are significant accusations on both sides. Still, if Jeanne really was replaced by her daughter, Yvonne Calment still lived to a fairly impressive 99 years old without suffering from senility.
Whichever version of events is correct, we look forward to a world in which 122 years old is considered the same as any other age and that people who live to 122 years old are exactly as likely to die as people who are 22 years old. If we can establish such a world, you may be able to tell people in the 23rd century and beyond about your experiences of today.
Source: Lifespan.io is a nonprofit advocacy organization and news outlet covering aging and rejuvenation research.