Christian Mortensen, 1882-1998


I created this page just a few weeks before Chris died. Click here for a tribute written the week after his death.




Christian Mortensen was born on August 16, 1882. For the last two decades of his long life, he lived in San Rafael, California, in the Aldersly Retirement Community. He was the oldest man whose age has been fully verified -- see our article in The Gerontologist 36(6): 783-788, 1996.

I visited Chris about once a month from March 1995 until his death on April 25, 1998. During this time, he was blind and could no longer walk on his own, but he was mentally aware and could carry on an intelligent conversation (when he wanted to) almost until the end. He always preferred a vegetarian diet and said the key to longevity is to "live a good, clean life." One of his greatest passions in life was a fine Danish cigar.

Why a Danish cigar, you ask? Because Chris was a Danish-American immigrant, although he lived many more years in the United States than in Denmark. He arrived on Ellis Island in 1903 at the age of 21. Just to give you a sense of what it means to live until the age of 115, consider this: he was too old to fight in the First World War!



(The photo above is courtesy of the SF Examiner. The photos below were taken by my former research assistant, Diana Friou.)





Here I am with Chris at his 113th birthday party in 1995. It was quite rare to see us both in ties, but hey, it was a very special occasion!




Everyone loved to give Chris cigars. And he loved to receive them too! I told him he just got lucky to live so long while smoking cigars. He always said that moderation is what matters. Maybe he was right. And I was in no position to argue with the old guy!






My first interviews with Chris were all tape-recorded. The transcripts of those interviews provide evidence that a person of such an advanced age is still capable of intelligent conversation. You had to be patient, but if you gave him time and listened carefully, he had many stories to tell.


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