Obituary: Jeanne Calment

She was born a year before the Battle of the Little Bighorn and lived to be a star (perhaps unwittingly) of rap music and the Internet. The death yesterday in Arles of Jeanne Calment, at the age of 122, deprived humanity of its oldest known member.

She had lived in Arles all her life and had met, as a young woman, an obscure painter called Vincent Van Gogh (before he lost his ear). He was, she recalled in one of her many media interviews of recent years, "as ugly as a louse" and "he stank".

Calment remained mentally acute, even playful, almost to the end. "I only ever had one wrinkle and I'm sitting on it," she once said. The one thing she never seemed able to explain satisfactorily was why she lived so long, outliving her husband by more than half a century and even, tragically, her only grandson by 34 years. She put her longevity down to a large consumption of olive oil, but that explanation never seemed to satisfy her increasingly large number of media admirers. It was only in 1995, at the age of 120, that she was persuaded by her doctor to give up smoking and her Sunday glass of port.

In recent years Calment became a public property to a degree that was disturbing, although it never seemed to worry her. "One hundred and twenty-two years? Can anyone beat that?" she asked a reporter from Le Figaro at her last birthday in February.

Last year she was made the star of a four-track compact disc, Time's Mistress, in which she told the story of her life over a musical background ranging from rap to farandole. She was shown (allegedly) how to work a computer and helped to set up her own website on the Internet. It was these unlikely events which prompted a regional court to place her under its guardianship to protect her "from the problems that fame can bring".

Jeanne Calment spent the first 115 or so years of her life in almost complete obscurity and, by her own account, contentment. She was born into a well-off family in Arles on 21 February 1875. She was married at the age of 21 to a cousin, Fernand Calment. They had one daughter and a grandson, who died in a road accident in 1963.

Until 1985 - when she was 110 - Calment lived alone, looking after herself, in her apartment in the centre of Arles. In 1965, a local lawyer purchased her home (she was then 90) on the understanding that it would remain hers for life. The price was 2,500 francs a month until she died. The lawyer himself died two years ago, aged 77.

She was recognised in 1993 by the Guinness Book of Records as the oldest member of the human race who could properly authenticate her birthdate. In October 1995, she became the oldest person ever recorded.

At her last birthday in February, Jeanne Calment, by then blind and almost deaf, was asked if she wanted to go on until the end of the century. "No, I've had enough," she replied.

Jeanne Louise Calment: born Arles, France 21 February 1875; married 1896 Fernand Calment (died 1942; one daughter deceased); died Arles 4 August 1997.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs People

Recruitment Genius: HR Manager

£36000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Ashdown Group: HR Manager Shared Services - Uxbridge, - 1 Year contract

£50000 per annum: Ashdown Group: HR Manager Shared Services - Uxbridge, Stock...

Recruitment Genius: Graduate Human Resource Officer and Executive Assistant

Negotiable: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity to join one of...

Ashdown Group: HR Assistant (Events business) - Central Manchester - £20K

£18000 - £20000 per annum + Benefits: Ashdown Group: HR Assistant (Events busi...

Day In a Page

Fishing for votes with Nigel Farage: The Ukip leader shows how he can work an audience as he casts his line to the disaffected of Grimsby

Fishing is on Nigel Farage's mind

Ukip leader casts a line to the disaffected
Who is bombing whom in the Middle East? It's amazing they don't all hit each other

Who is bombing whom in the Middle East?

Robert Fisk untangles the countries and factions
China's influence on fashion: At the top of the game both creatively and commercially

China's influence on fashion

At the top of the game both creatively and commercially
Lord O’Donnell: Former cabinet secretary on the election and life away from the levers of power

The man known as GOD has a reputation for getting the job done

Lord O'Donnell's three principles of rule
Rainbow shades: It's all bright on the night

Rainbow shades

It's all bright on the night
'It was first time I had ever tasted chocolate. I kept a piece, and when Amsterdam was liberated, I gave it to the first Allied soldier I saw'

Bread from heaven

Dutch survivors thank RAF for World War II drop that saved millions
Britain will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power - Labour

How 'the Axe' helped Labour

UK will be 'run for the wealthy and powerful' if Tories retain power
Rare and exclusive video shows the horrific price paid by activists for challenging the rule of jihadist extremists in Syria

The price to be paid for challenging the rule of extremists

A revolution now 'consuming its own children'
Welcome to the world of Megagames

Welcome to the world of Megagames

300 players take part in Watch the Skies! board game in London
'Nymphomaniac' actress reveals what it was really like to star in one of the most explicit films ever

Charlotte Gainsbourg on 'Nymphomaniac'

Starring in one of the most explicit films ever
Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi: The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers

Robert Fisk in Abu Dhabi

The Emirates' out-of-sight migrant workers helping to build the dream projects of its rulers
Vince Cable interview: Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'

Vince Cable exclusive interview

Charging fees for employment tribunals was 'a very bad move'
Iwan Rheon interview: Game of Thrones star returns to his Welsh roots to record debut album

Iwan Rheon is returning to his Welsh roots

Rheon is best known for his role as the Bastard of Bolton. It's gruelling playing a sadistic torturer, he tells Craig McLean, but it hasn't stopped him recording an album of Welsh psychedelia
Russell Brand's interview with Ed Miliband has got everyone talking about The Trews

Everyone is talking about The Trews

Russell Brand's 'true news' videos attract millions of viewers. But today's 'Milibrand' interview introduced his resolutely amateurish style to a whole new crowd
Morne Hardenberg interview: Cameraman for BBC's upcoming show Shark on filming the ocean's most dangerous predator

It's time for my close-up

Meet the man who films great whites for a living