The Woman Who Hid From Death

by L-Johnson

Jeanne Calment at age 22 and at her 121st birthday where she said, “Death doesn’t frighten me; now I can think peacefully of ending a long life.”

Jeanne Calment was a French woman who was born February 21, 1875. She died August 4, 1997 at the ripe old age of 122. She had the longest confirmed human life span in history. She was a supercentenarian, which is a term for someone who lives to 110 (which Jeanne surpassed by 12 years!) She is the only person ever documented and confirmed to have reached the age of 120.

Jeanne was born in Arles, France in 1875, the same year that the first organized game of indoor hockey was played in Montreal. When she was 13, she met Vincent Van Gogh when he came into her uncle’s store to buy paints. She found him to be “rude, ugly and impolite”.

At 21, she got married in 1896 to a wealthy store owner. His wealth made it possible for Jeanne to not have to work, allowing her to live in leisure. She pursued hobbies such as tennis, cycling, swimming, rollerskating, piano, and opera. Her husband died in 1942 after he ate a dessert prepared with spoiled cherries.

In 1965, at the age of 90, she sold her former apartment to a man who agreed to pay her a sum of 2,500 francs every month until her death. This man who must have some of the worst luck in all of France, ended up paying her more than $180,000 USD, which was more than double the apartment’s value. After he died at 77 in 1995, his widow continued the payments until Jeanne’s death two years later.

Jeanne lived on her own until age 110, and moved into a nursing home in Arles in 1985. She talked to reporters in 1988 upon the 100-year centenary of Van Gogh’s visit to Arles. She told reporters her recollections of meeting Van Gogh and selling him colored pencils, as well as seeing the Eiffel Tower being built. She also attended the funeral of Victor Hugo in 1885.

Also in 1988, Jeanne was given the Guinness book of Records’ “World’s Oldest Person” title.

At the age of 114, she appeared briefly in the 1990 film Vincent and Me, making her the oldest person ever to appear in a motion picture.

In 1995, she was declared by Guinness as the “Oldest Person Ever.” In this same year, a documentary film about her life, called Beyond 120 Years with Jeanne Calment, was released.

In an effort to raise money for her nursing home to purchase vehicles, Jeanne created a music album in 1996, of her speaking over rap and dance music in the background. The four-track CD is called Time’s Mistress and features upbeat songs where she reminisces about her life. The album cover features the number 121, her age at the time.

On August 4th, 1997, Jeanne died from- you guessed it, old age. What was the secret to her longevity? She wasn’t athletic and she wasn’t a health fanatic. She surprisingly smoked from the age of 21 to 117, but apparently no more than two or three cigarettes a day. She did, however, walk all over Arles, and ride a bicycle until she was 100. She put olive oil on all her food, and even rubbed it on her skin. She enjoyed port wine, and ate nearly a kilo of chocolate every week.

Jeanne was well known for her quick wit. On her 120th birthday, when asked what kind of future she expects, she replied “A very short one.” My favorite quip of hers is when, at a party, somebody left and told her “Until next year, perhaps.” She replied “I don’t see why not! You don’t look so bad to me!”

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