Calment became the last living documented person born in the 1870s when the Japanese supercentenarianTane Ikai (born 1879) died on 12 July 1995, and was thenceforth more than five and a half years older than any other living human being until her death over two years later; in total she outlived 329 undisputedly-verified supercentenarians. Her lifespan has been thoroughly documented by scientific study. More records have been produced to verify her age than in any other case. She is the only person confirmed to have reached over 120 years of age.
Calment was born in Arles in 1875. Her father, Nicolas Calment (28 January 1831 – 22 January 1931), was a shipbuilder, and her mother, Marguerite Gilles (20 February 1838 – 18 September 1924), was from a family of millers. Some of her close family members also lived to an advanced age: her older brother François lived to the age of 97, her father to six days shy of 100, and her mother to 86.
According to Calment, she met Vincent van Gogh at the age of 13, when he came into her uncle's shop in 1888. She found him to be "Dirty, badly dressed and disagreeable".
In 1896, at the age of 21, she married her double second cousin, Fernand Nicolas Calment, a wealthy store owner. Their paternal grandfathers were brothers, hence the same surname, and their paternal grandmothers were also sisters. His wealth made it possible for Calment never to have to work; instead she led a leisured lifestyle, pursuing hobbies such as tennis, cycling, swimming, rollerskating, piano, and opera. Fernand died in 1942 at the age of 73 or 74 after eating a dessert prepared with spoiled cherries.
Their only child, a daughter named Yvonne Marie Nicolle Calment (1898–1934), produced a grandson, Frédéric Billiot, in 1926. Yvonne died at age 35 from pneumonia, after which Calment raised Frédéric herself. Frédéric became a doctor, but died at age 36 in an automobile accident in 1963.
In 1965, aged 90 years and with no heirs, Calment signed a deal to sell her former apartment to lawyer André-François Raffray, on a contingency contract. Raffray, then aged 47 years, agreed to pay her a monthly sum of 2,500 francs until she died. Raffray ended up paying Calment the equivalent of more than $180,000, which was more than double the apartment's value. After Raffray's death from cancer at the age of 77, in 1995, his widow continued the payments until Calment's death. During all these years, Calment used to say to them that she "competed with Methuselah".
In 1985, Calment moved into a nursing home, having lived on her own until age 110. Her international fame escalated in 1988, when the centenary of Vincent van Gogh's visit to Arles provided an occasion to meet reporters. She said at the time that she had met Van Gogh 100 years before, in 1888, as a thirteen-year-old girl in her uncle's fabric shop, where he wanted to buy some canvas, later describing him as "dirty, badly dressed and disagreeable", and "very ugly, ungracious, impolite, sick". Calment recalled selling coloured pencils to Van Gogh, and seeing the Eiffel Tower being built. At the age of 114, she appeared briefly in the 1990 film Vincent and Me as herself, making her the oldest person ever to appear in a motion picture.
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. On her 122nd birthday on 21 February 1997, it was announced that she would make no more public appearances, as her health had seriously deteriorated. She died on 4 August of that same year.
Both before and after Calment's death, there have been several claims to have surpassed her age, but none of them have been proven, and Calment therefore continues to hold the record for the oldest verified person ever.
After her 1988 interview, at age 113, Calment was given the Guinness title "world's oldest living person". However, in 1989, the title was withdrawn and given to Carrie C. White of Florida, who was claimed to have been born in 1874, although this has been discounted by subsequent census research. On White's death on 14 February 1991, Calment, then a week shy of 116, became the oldest recognized living person.
On 17 October 1995, Calment reached 120 years and 238 days to become the "oldest person ever" according to Guinness, surpassing Shigechiyo Izumi of Japan, whose claim (120 years 237 days old at the time of his death on 21 February 1986, Calment's 111th birthday) has since been discounted. Calment was believed to have been the first person verified to have reached 115 years of age, although Augusta Holtz has since been verified to have reached this age before her.
She is also the only person to have lived for 120 years. The person who came closest to this age was Sarah Knauss of the United States, reaching 119 years, 97 days on her death on 30 December 1999.
Calment also holds the record for being the oldest living person for the longest period of time, by far – with nearly nine years and seven months, counting from the death of Florence Knapp on 11 January 1988, to her own death on 4 August 1997.
Calment broke the record for longest confirmed lifespan (previously thought to have been held by Anna Eliza Williams, who died in 1987 at age 114 years, 208 days, subsequent research has proved that Augusta Holtz was the oldest ever person at this time, she died in 1985 at the age of 115 years, 79 days) by over seven years. Breaking a previous record for age by that amount was, in itself, a record. Before Calment, the only person who had surpassed a former longest confirmed lifespan by more than one year, was Delina Filkins who became the first 113-year-old in 1928. Filkins surpassed the by-then longest confirmed lifespan by just over two years.
Calment's remarkable health presaged her later record. At age 85 (1960), she took up fencing, and continued to ride her bicycle up until her 100th birthday. She was reportedly neither athletic, nor fanatical about her health. Calment lived on her own until shortly before her 110th birthday, when it was decided that she needed to be moved to a nursing home after a cooking accident (she was having complications with sight) started a small fire in her house. However, Calment was still in good shape, and continued to walk until she fractured her femur during a fall at age 114 years 11 months (January 1990), which required surgery.
Calment smoked from the age of 21 (1896) to 117 (1992), though according to an unspecified source, she smoked no more than two cigarettes per day. After her operation, Calment needed to use a wheelchair. She weighed Template:Convert in 1994.
Calment ascribed her longevity and relatively youthful appearance for her age to olive oil, which she said she poured on all her food and rubbed onto her skin, as well as a diet of port wine, and ate nearly one kilogram (2.2 lb) of chocolate every week.Template:Quotation