11 Of History’s Oldest People Ever, From A Traveling Herbalist To A Red Wine Enthusiast

Published December 5, 2023

Who was the oldest person to ever live? Who is the oldest living person today? And how did these supercentenarians become the longest-living people in history?

The average human lifespan is around 73 years. That’s plenty of time to see the world change with new technology, to live through good times and bad times, and maybe even start a family. That said, some people have lived much longer than 73 years. So who is the oldest person to ever live?

That simple question has a complicated answer. There are verified supercentenarians like Jeanne Calment, who reportedly lived to the age of 122 on a diet that included red wine, olive oil, and chocolate. There are also people still living today who are well over 100 years old and may outlive Calment, such as María Branyas Morera, the oldest person alive right now.

But there are also people throughout history whose ages, for whatever reason, remain unverified. Huvaydo Umarova of Uzbekistan has a passport that appears to confirm her alleged age of 128 years old. And astoundingly, some claim that Li Ching-Yuen of China was 256 when he died in 1933.

The truth in cases like Umarova’s and Li’s can be difficult to untangle. But regardless of whether their ages were verified or unverified, these are some of the world’s longest-living people — and their fascinating stories.

Jeanne Calment, The Oldest Verified Person To Ever Live

Oldest Person To Ever Live

Eric Fougere/Getty ImagesJeanne Calment with a glass of wine on her 120th birthday.

Let’s start off with some of the verified longest-living people. Interestingly enough, the first verified person on our list, Jeanne Calment, comes with a bit of an asterisk — as some have raised questions about her age.

Calment was born in France in 1875 and lived a life of relative ease and luxury. Born into wealth, she never had to work and had help with chores like cooking and grocery shopping. Freed of domestic responsibilities, Calment spent her life traveling and attending glamorous social events.

She rose to prominence in 1986 when, at the age of 111, Calment became the oldest person alive in France. By 1988, she had become the oldest living person in the entire world. And by the time she died in 1997 at the extremely ripe old age of 122, Jeanne Calment was recognized as the oldest verified person ever. She still officially holds that impressive title today.

Before her death, Calment attributed her longevity to her lifestyle and eating habits. She doused her meals in olive oil, drank copious amounts of red wine, and, until she turned 119, ate about two pounds of chocolate a week. She also enjoyed smoking cigarettes in her later years.

Jeanne Calment The Oldest Person To Ever Live

Jean-Pierre Fizet/Getty ImagesAt the end of her life, Jeanne Calment smoked, drank, and enjoyed eating chocolate and red meat.

“I took pleasure when I could. I acted clearly and morally and without regret. I’m very lucky,” Calment said, according to The Guardian.

But was Jeanne Calment’s old age truly due to luck? Or something else?

Though her longevity is technically verified, some have suggested that Jeanne Calment was not who she claimed to be. Skeptics think that the real Calment possibly died in 1934 and her daughter Yvonne may have assumed her identity. Officially, Yvonne was the one who died in 1934 of pneumonia, and experts have called the conspiracy theory “shaky,” but it does cast at least some doubt upon the identity of the world’s oldest person to ever live.

author
Kaleena Fraga
author
A staff writer for All That's Interesting, Kaleena Fraga has also had her work featured in The Washington Post and Gastro Obscura, and she published a book on the Seattle food scene for the Eat Like A Local series. She graduated from Oberlin College, where she earned a dual degree in American History and French.
editor
Jaclyn Anglis
editor
Jaclyn is the senior managing editor at All That's Interesting. She holds a Master's degree in journalism from the City University of New York and a Bachelor's degree in English writing and history (double major) from DePauw University. She is interested in American history, true crime, modern history, pop culture, and science.
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Fraga, Kaleena. "11 Of History’s Oldest People Ever, From A Traveling Herbalist To A Red Wine Enthusiast." AllThatsInteresting.com, December 5, 2023, https://allthatsinteresting.com/oldest-person-to-ever-live. Accessed June 20, 2024.