Jeanne Calment was the oldest human whose age was well-documented, with a lifespan of 122 years and 164 days. She was born in France in 1875. For over 100 years of her life, she enjoyed smoking, drinking, and eating chocolate every day until she died in 1997. Calment also outlived her daughter and grandson.
Her longevity attracted media attention and medical studies of her health and lifestyle.
According to census records, Calment outlived both her daughter and grandson.
She was widely reported to have been the oldest living person in 1988 at 112, and was declared the oldest person ever in 1995 at age 120.
Some researchers have challenged Calment’s extreme age due to statistical unlikelihood, and have examined the possibility that her daughter Yvonne may have assumed Calment’s identity in 1934. Other researchers have dismissed this hypothesis on the basis of extensive prior research into Calment’s life.
Calment died of unspecified causes on 4 August 1997 around 10 am Central European Time. The New York Times quoted Robine as stating that she had been in good health, though almost blind and deaf, as recently as a month before her death.
On 8 April 1896, at the age of 21, she married her double second cousin, Fernand Nicolas Calment (1868–1942). Their paternal grandfathers were brothers, and their paternal grandmothers were sisters. He had reportedly started courting her when she was 15, but she was “too young to be interested in boys”.
Fernand was heir to a drapery business located in a classic Provençal-style building in the center of Arles, and the couple moved into a spacious apartment above the family store. Jeanne employed servants and never had to work; she led a leisurely lifestyle within the upper society of Arles, pursuing hobbies such as fencing, cycling, tennis, swimming, rollerskating (“I fell flat on my face”), playing the piano and making music with friends.
In the summer, the couple would stay at Uriage for mountaineering on the glacier. (“Even at 16 I had good legs.”) They also went hunting for rabbits and wild boars in the hills of Provence, using an “18mm rifle” [sic]. Calment said she disliked shooting birds.
She gave birth to her only child, a daughter named Yvonne Marie Nicolle Calment, on 19 January 1898. Yvonne married army officer Joseph Billot on 3 February 1926, and their only son, Frédéric, was born on 23 December of the same year.
Yvonne Calment died of pleurisy on 19 January 1934, her 36th birthday, after which Jeanne raised Frédéric, although he lived with his father in the neighbouring apartment.
World War II had little effect on Jeanne’s life. She said that German soldiers slept in her rooms but “did not take anything away”, so that she bore no grudge against them. In 1942, her husband Fernand died, aged 73, reportedly of cherry poisoning.
By the 1954 census, she was still registered in the same apartment, together with her son-in-law, retired Colonel Billot, Yvonne’s widower; the census documents list Jeanne as “mother” in 1954 and “widow” in 1962. Frédéric Billot lived next door with his wife Renée.
Her brother François died in 1962, aged 97. Her son-in-law Joseph died in January 1963, and her grandson Frédéric died in an automobile accident in August of the same year.
In 1965, aged 90 and with no heirs left, Calment signed a life estate contract on her apartment with notary public André-François Raffray, selling the property in exchange for a right of occupancy and a monthly revenue of 2,500 francs (€380) until her death. Raffray died in 1995, by which time Calment had received more than double the apartment’s value from him, and his family had to continue making payments. Calment commented on the situation by saying, “in life, one sometimes makes bad deals.”
In 1985, she moved into a nursing home, having lived on her own until age 110.
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.