In the summer of 1997, France mourned the death of Jeanne Calment. Why was her passing so remarkable?
Jeanne Calment was older than the Eiffel Tower. She was born in Arles in 1875, while work began on France’s most famous structure a dozen years later, in 1887.
Jeanne Calment was renowned as the oldest human being in the world—although some critics have suggested she wasn’t every one of the 122 years old she claimed to be. Even discounting her age by a full twenty per cent, however, she was still almost a century old. That’s a lot of life.
The same summer of 1997 saw the death of another famous European woman. Lady Diana Spencer, later Diana, Princess of Wales, was killed in a car crash in the Pont de l’Alma tunnel in Paris. Her driver was fleeing the paparazzi who had stalked her for almost two decades, virtually since her engagement to her former husband, Prince Charles, as a teenager.
Diana was only 36 years old when she died. But after a fairly nondescript, if privileged, childhood and adolescence, she had blossomed into a global celebrity, renowned and beloved for her beauty, charm, and many charitable interests.
After her divorce from the heir apparent to the British throne, she largely withdrew from public life and charitable sponsorships, but maintained several key concerns while conducting at least two romances with wealthy men. She also lovingly raised her two sons, Princes William and Harry, now both darlings of the world press.
For many, many mourners, Lady Di was “the people’s princess” at the pinnacle of worldly achievement. Even for a thirty-six-year-old, that’s a lot of life.
Yet another European woman passed away that same summer. Anjezë Gonxhe Bojaxhiu had been born in Skopje, now the capital city of North Macedonia and at the time an important town in Yugoslavia.
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