Living to age 100 is very rare. In the United States, centenarians traditionally receive a letter from the president, congratulating them for their longevity. In the United Kingdom and the Commonwealth Realms, the Queen sends greetings (formerly as a telegram) on the 100th birthday and on every birthday starting with the 105th. This is a list of people who lived to 100 or more. The list is in alphabetical order.
Born in Mogilev, Belarus on May 11, 1888, Berlin’s parents immigrated to the US in 1893, where he was forced to work various street jobs after his father’s death in 1896.
Berlin was working in a café when the owner asked him to produce an original song for them, as a rival café had had their own song published. Though he was paid just 37 cents for the result, this started Berlin off on a new career where he would become one of the most successful and prolific musicians and lyricists in history, composing over 3,000 songs, including God Bless America, White Christmas, Anything You Can Do, and There’s No Business Like Show Business. He composed 17 film scores and 21 Broadway scores. He died of a heart attack in 1989, aged 101.
Burns was an Academy Award winning comedian and actor. His career spanned vaudeville, film, radio, and television, with and without his equally legendary wife, Gracie Allen. His arched eyebrow and cigar smoke punctuation became familiar trademarks for over 75 years.
Enjoying a remarkable career resurrection that began at age 79, Burns was as well known in the last two decades of his life as at any other time.
The likelihood that Burns would live to see his 100th birthday became a running gag in his stage work, but he indeed intended to live that long, even booking himself to play the London Palladium as a 100th birthday celebration. However, his health seriously declined towards his centenary, and although he eventually reached it, he was too ill to perform any engagements. He died just 49 days later.
Calment is, according to Guinness World Records, the oldest person to have ever lived for whom there is irrefutable evidence.
Born on February 21, 1875 in Arles, France, Calment’s mother, father and brother lived to 86, 93, and 97 respectively.
As well as living through two world wars, Calment also met Vincent Van Gogh while he was staying in Arles, and attended Victor Hugo’s funeral in 1885. At the age of 114, she appeared in the film Vincent and Me, making her the world’s oldest actress, and in 1996, the nursing home she resided in released a CD of her reminiscing about her life.
Calment lived on her own until she was 101. She took up fencing at age 85, and was still riding a bicycle by the time she reached 100. She survived a hip operation at age 114 to become the oldest verifiable surgery patient, and remained an ardent smoker until she decided to quit at age 117. She died on August 4, 1997, age 122.
Fabre was a French aviation pioneer, and inventor of La Canard, the first sea plane in history. He was born into a prominent family of shipowners in the city of Marseilles. He was educated in the Jesuit College of Marseilles, where he undertook advanced studies in sciences. He then studied aerospace and propeller designs. He patented a system of flotation devices, which he used when he succeeded in taking off from the surface of the Etang de Berre on March 28, 1910. On that day, he completed four consecutive perfect flights, the longest about 600 meters.
During the First World War, he established a company with 200 employees, which was specialized in the manufacture of seaplanes.
He died in 1984, age 102, as one of the last living pioneers of human flight.
Born in Switzerland on January 11, 1906, Albert Hofmann changed the world irrevocably when, in 1938, he synthesized Lysergic acid diethylamide, which later became known as LSD.
He began experimenting with it in 1943, and wrote about his experiences. He became director of the natural products department at Sandoz, and studied hallucinogenic substances found in Mexican mushrooms and other plants used by the aboriginal people. This led to the synthesis of psilocybin, the active agent of many “magic mushrooms.”
Hofmann called LSD “medicine for the soul” and was frustrated by the worldwide prohibition that pushed it underground. “It was used very successfully for 10 years in psychoanalysis,” he said, adding that the drug was hijacked by the youth movement of the 1960s and then unfairly demonized by the establishment, though he concedes LSD can be dangerous in the wrong hands.
Hofmann died of a heart attack on April 29, 2008. He and his wife, Anita, who died in 2007, raised four children.
Bob Hope was an English-born American entertainer who appeared in vaudeville, on Broadway, on radio and television, in movies, and in performing tours for U.S. Military personnel. He was well known for his good natured humor and the longevity of his career.
Born in London on May 29, 1903, Hope and his family immigrated to the US in 1920, when Hope was 20. He entered dance and talent competitions, winning prizes for his Charlie Chaplin impersonations. Soon he was landing roles in various film and theatre productions, and numerous broadcasting shows.
Hope performed over 60 USO shows, across half a century, entertaining troops during World War II, and the Korean, Vietnam, and Gulf wars. A 1997 act of Congress signed by President Clinton named Hope an “Honorary Veteran”. He remarked, “I’ve been given many awards in my lifetime, but to be numbered among the men and women I admire most, is the greatest honor I have ever received.” Hope died on July 27, 2003, aged 100.
Lane was born on January 26, 1905, and began acting professionally in 1929, becoming a founding member of the Screen Actors Guild in 1933. When he passed away in 2007, he was the oldest living American actor. During his career he starred in hundreds of television shows, including Petticoat Junction, I Love Lucy and Little House on the Prairie. He starred in over 250 feature films, including Mr Smith Goes to Washington, It’s a Mad Mad Mad Mad World, and as the rent collector in It’s a Wonderful Life. Lane’s final acting role was in 2006’s The Night Before Christmas. He died at age 101.
Queen Elizabeth, the Queen Mother
Elizabeth Bowes-Lyon, later Queen Elizabeth, was the Queen Consort of King George VI of the United Kingdom and the British Dominions from 1936 until his death in 1952. After her husband’s death, she was known as The Queen Mother to avoid confusion with her daughter, Elizabeth II. From 1923 to 1936, she was known as the Duchess of York. She was the last Queen of Ireland and Empress of India.
Born into a family of Scottish nobility, she came to prominence in 1923 when she married Albert, Duke of York, the second son of George V and Queen Mary. As Duchess of York, she – along with her husband and their two daughters Elizabeth and Margaret – embodied traditional ideas of family and public service. She undertook a variety of public engagements, and became known as the “Smiling Duchess” because of her consistent public expression.
In 1936, her husband unexpectedly became King when her brother-in-law, Edward VIII, abdicated in order to marry his mistress. As Queen Consort, Elizabeth accompanied her husband on diplomatic tours to France and North America in the run-up to World War II. During the war, she provided moral support to the British public. Adolf Hitler described her as “the most dangerous woman in Europe”. After the war, her husband’s health deteriorated and she was widowed at the age of 51. In 1953 when Queen Mary died, with her brother-in-law living abroad and her elder daughter now Queen at the age of 26, Elizabeth became the senior royal and assumed a position as family matriarch. In her later years, she was a consistently popular member of the Royal Family.
Only after the illness and death of Princess Margaret, her own younger daughter, did she appear to grow frail. She died six weeks after Margaret, at age 101.
Strom Thurmond, born December 5, 1902, was an American politician who served as governor of South Carolina and as a United States Senator. He ran for President in 1948 as a third party candidate for the segregationist States Rights Democratic Party, garnering 39 electoral votes. He represented South Carolina in the Senate from 1954 to 1964 as a Democrat, and then from 1964 to 2003 as a Republican. He left the Senate in January 2003 as the oldest serving US senator in history. He died six months later, age 100.