If there’s one honor you don’t want, it’s to be recognized as the world’s oldest person.
Without fail, often within months and sometimes even weeks of being declared as the planet’s senior senior citizen, the individual is dead.
The latest to fall victim to this curse: Japan’s Jiroemon Kimura, 116, who died today less than six months after being recognized by the Guinness World Records as the world’s oldest living person.
Kimura did far better than his immediate predecessor, though. Dina Manfredini lasted just 13 as the world’s oldest person before dying late last year.
And of the 32 previous record holders, only seven survived more than a year after being honored for their longevity. Sounds like a curse if I’ve ever heard of one.
In seriousness, one of the interesting aspects of news stories about the extremely aged is that they are almost never quoted. This is almost always, to put it delicately, because the faculties of the extremely aged aren’t quite what they once were.
For one thing, many can’t hear which makes it difficult for reporters to get responses to questions.
But the bigger issue is that especially when one gets past 110-plus-years, the mental faculties tend to deteriorate.
One of the more amusing journalism stories I recall was when a fellow reporter was dispatched to cover the birthday party for a woman who was purported to be 120 years old.
Because the woman in question was black and had lived in the Florida Panhandle her entire life, there was little documentation to back up her family’s claim regarding her age, but it wasn’t out of the realm of possibility.
My colleague and a newspaper photographer arrived at the party, being held at an area nursing home, and talked to the family for a short while; then, with the family’s help, attempted to interview the elderly honoree.
After asking several questions and getting absolutely no response, my colleague began to wonder if the woman was even able to speak.
She then tried one last innocuous question, something along the lines of “Do you have any secrets to your longevity?”
To which the 120-year-old birthday girl blurted out clearly and for all to hear: “Get the hell away from me!”
End of interview.
Needless to say, when it came time for my coworker to write her story about how a local woman celebrated her 120th birthday surrounded by family and friends, there were no quotes from the resident supercentenarian.