Jeanne Calment apparently lived to be 122, but divisive new research suggests she wasn’t who she seemed. There are huge implications for our understanding of longevity
SHE met Vincent van Gogh as a child, gave up smoking at 117 and eventually died aged 122 years and 164 days. Jeanne Louise Calment is officially the oldest human ever to have lived, known in her native France as “la doyenne de l’humanité”. But she may not be what she seems.
If a recently published research paper is correct, a woman called Jeanne Louise Calment did exist, but she died in 1934, aged 59. The woman who claimed to be her was actually her daughter Yvonne, 23 years her junior.
This finding could not only shatter Calment’s legendary status in France, but it could force gerontologists to revise some of their cherished ideas about extreme old age.
Calment’s official story, as verified by state demographers, is that she was born in Arles, France, on 21 February 1875. She was a wealthy woman who lived her life in relative obscurity, until she became famous aged 110. She saw out her final years as a national treasure and a subject of intense scientific interest, eventually dying on 4 August 1997.
Her fame exploded after she made a cameo appearance in a 1990 movie called Vincent and Me at the ostensible age of 114. She was also notably spry, riding a bike well beyond her 100th birthday. Her most famous …
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