10 Impressive Accomplishments Made By Centenarians

Jeff J Mitchell, Staff // Getty Images
Jeff J Mitchell, Staff // Getty Images

People who live to celebrate their 100th birthdays belong to an elite club. According to the U.S. Census Bureau, less than one tenth of one percent of the population makes it to triple digits. In the U.S., the achievement has traditionally been recognized by a letter from the president. In the UK, citizens receive cards from the queen upon turning 100, 105, and every age after that.

These centenarians didn’t use the milestone as an excuse to slow down. Here’s how some of the world’s most seasoned citizens kept busy in their later years.

1. COMPLETING A MARATHON

Fauja Singh isn’t the fastest runner on the marathon route, but in the age department he laps his peers. In 2011, the Indian-born Brit became the oldest person to finish a marathon, at age 100. (He claims he was born before India started issuing birth certificates, so without official proof the accomplishment isn’t recognized by Guinness World Records.) The race marked his eighth completed marathon since he ran his first at age 89. He’s since retired from the marathon circuit, but 106-year-old still finds time to compete in shorter runs.

2. DIRECTING A FEATURE FILM

Two years after the first full-length movie premiered, Manoel de Oliveira was born. He would eventually grow up to become the oldest active filmmaker in the business. De Oliveira lived the first half of his life under a fascist government in Portugal that made launching a career as a director nearly impossible. When the regime crumbled in 1974, de Oliveira at last had the freedom to build his body of work. Twenty-seven of his feature films were made after age 55, culminating with The Strange Case of Angelica in 2010. The first draft of the screenplay was written in 1952—58 years before De Oliveira was finally was able to film it as a 102-year-old. Even after he retired from feature filmmaking, the director continued making shorts until his death at 106.

3. MODELING FOR VOGUE

Bo Gilbert shattered age barriers when she modeled for British Vogue’s centennial issue at age 100. The Birmingham, UK resident was discovered by a casting agent in The Evesham Journal, a local newspaper that featured Gilbert for her 100th birthday. The photoshoot marked her first time modeling professionally (she spent the bulk of her working years at a cardboard box factory), but fashion has always been an important part of her life. Gilbert, who never ventures out of her living facility without heels and makeup, told Vogue, “I dress for myself—I never dress up for boys.”

4. EARNING A HIGH SCHOOL DIPLOMA

At 111, Lela Burden was old enough to be the great-grandmother of most students in Booker T. Washington High School’s graduating class. But in 2014, she joined them in collecting a high school diploma from the Norfolk, Virginia school. The achievement had been delayed 96 years following a flu epidemic that shut down her high school in 1918. By the time the school reopened, Burden was working two jobs and was unable to return. After a full life spent raising a family and reading the newspaper every day, she received the honor she was deprived of as a teenager. Leading up to her death in 2015, Burden was the 35th oldest person alive.

5. PUBLISHING A BOOK

When UK native Bertha Wood committed to writing her memoirs at age 90, she had a lot of material to pull from. She eventually zeroed in on her days running a vacation resort with her husband as the subject of her book, titled Fresh Air and Fun: The Story of a Blackpool Holiday Camp. The account was published on June 20, 2005—the same day as Wood’s 100th birthday. She died in 2007 as the world’s oldest first-time author.

6. SKYDIVING

William Verdun Hayes never intended to trudge into old age quietly. When he passed his 100th birthday, the British World War II veteran celebrated by jumping out of a plane. He took to the skies again a year later to claim the record for oldest tandem skydiver. Hayes completed the 15,000-foot jump when he was 101 years and 38 days old—besting the previous record holder by over a month.

7. CONQUERING MT. FUJI

Climbing Mt. Fuji was an annual tradition Teiichi Igarashi started in his old age, and he saw no reason to give it up after turning 100. In 1987, the retired lumberjack became the first centenarian to step foot on the mountain’s 12,385-foot peak. He was accompanied by seven of his 10 children, three of his 36 grandchildren, and a photo of his late wife he carried with him on each trek. According to AP, he wore heavy socks with no shoes and stopped to rest about every three minutes. Instead of drinking water, he ate raw eggs to replenish himself.

8. ACTING WITH MOVIE STARS

Norman Lloyd in a suit in 2015.
Angela Weiss, Stringer // Getty Images

What do Charlie Chaplin, Alfred Hitchcock, and Amy Schumer have in common? They’ve all made movies with Norman Lloyd, the oldest working actor in Hollywood. Lloyd made his television debut in 1939, and he’s been an active member of the entertainment industry ever since. His resume includes acting credits on The Alfred Hitchcock Hour, St. Elsewhere, and Dead Poets Society (1989). His most recent film, the 2015 comedy Trainwreck, premiered when he was 100 years old. At 102 he’s still landing acting gigs: For his next role Lloyd will play Captain Edwin Swan in the 2018 TV series Fly.

9. GETTING ARRESTED

Getting arrested is something most people try to avoid; for 102-year-old Edie Simms, it was a high priority on her bucket list. She got her wish in October 2016 when officers from the St. Louis Police department handcuffed her and guided her into the back of their police car. Instead of delivering her to jail, the officers escorted her to the local Five Star Senior Center, a residential community that Simms donates to regularly. With the police men and women at her side, she was finally able to distribute her hand-knit scarves, socks, and glasses cases to the residents in person.

10. YARN-BOMBING A TOWN

At 104, Grace Brett channeled her knitting hobby into an act of minor vandalism. With help from the rest of the “Souter Stormers,” a group of mischievous knitters from Scotland, she draped the public spaces around her town in colorful knitwear. Residents walked outside the day of the prank to find their benches, lampposts, and fences had been sweater-bombed. Some of Brett’s creations even featured tiny dolls and houses made from yarn. When the deed was done, she told The Daily Record that she “thought the town looked lovely.”

11 Memorable Facts About Cats the Musical

Mike Clarke/Getty Images
Mike Clarke/Getty Images

“It was better than Cats!” Decades after Andrew Lloyd Webber's famed musical opened on Broadway on October 7, 1982, this tongue-in-cheek idiom remains a part of our lexicon (thanks to Saturday Night Live). Although the feline extravaganza divided the critics, it won over audiences of all ages and became an industry juggernaut—one that single-handedly generated more than $3 billion for New York City's economy—and that was before it made a return to the Great White Way in 2016. In honor of Andrew Lloyd Webber's birthday on March 22, let’s take a trip down memory lane.

1. The work that Cats the musical is based on was originally going to include dogs.

Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats, published in 1939, is a collection of feline-themed poems written by the great T. S. Eliot. A whimsical, lighthearted effort, the volume has been delighting cat fanciers for generations—and it could have become just as big of a hit with dog lovers, too. At first, Eliot envisioned the book as an assemblage of canine- and tabby-related poems. However, he came to believe that “dogs don’t seem to lend themselves to verse quite so well, collectively, as cats.” (Spoken like a true ailurophile.) According to his publisher, Eliot decided that “it would be improper to wrap [felines] up with dogs” and barely even mentioned them in the finished product.

For his part, Andrew Lloyd Webber has described his attitude towards cats as “quite neutral.” Still, the composer felt that Eliot’s rhymes could form the basis of a daring, West End-worthy soundtrack. It seemed like an irresistible challenge. “I wanted to set that exciting verse to music,” he explained. “When I [had] written with lyricists in the past … the lyrics have been written to the music. So I was intrigued to see whether I could write a complete piece the other way ‘round.”

2. "Memory" was inspired by a poem that T.S. Eliot never finished.

In 1980, Webber approached T.S. Eliot’s widow, Valerie, to ask for her blessing on the project. She not only said “yes,” but provided the songwriter with some helpful notes and letters that her husband had written about Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats—including a half-finished, eight-line poem called “Grizabella, the Glamour Cat.” Feeling that it was too melancholy for children, Eliot decided to omit the piece from Practical Cats. But the dramatic power of the poem made it irresistible for Webber and Trevor Nunn, the show’s original director. By combining lines from “Grizabella, the Glamour Cat” with those of another Eliot poem, “Rhapsody on a Windy Night,” they laid the foundation for what became the powerful ballad “Memory.” A smash hit within a smash hit, this showstopper has been covered by such icons as Barbra Streisand and Barry Manilow.

3. Dame Judi Dench left the cast of Cats when her Achilles tendon snapped.

One of Britain’s most esteemed actresses, Dench was brought in to play Grizabella for Cats’s original run on the West End. Then, about three weeks into rehearsals, she was going through a scene with co-star Wayne Sleep (Mr. Mistoffelees) when disaster struck. “She went, ‘You kicked me!’” Sleep recalls in the above video. “And I said, ‘I didn’t, actually, are you alright?’” She wasn’t. Somehow, Dench had managed to tear her Achilles tendon. As a last-minute replacement, Elaine Paige of Evita fame was brought aboard. In an eerie coincidence, Paige had heard a recorded version of “Memory” on a local radio station less than 24 hours before she was asked to play Grizabella. Also, an actual black cat had crossed her path that day. Spooky.

4. To finance the show, Andrew Lloyd Webber ended up mortgaging his house.

Although Andrew Lloyd Webber had previously won great acclaim as one of the creative minds behind Jesus Christ Superstar and other hit shows, Cats had a hard time finding investors. According to choreographer Gillian Lynne, “[it] was very, very difficult to finance because everyone said ‘A show about cats? You must be raving mad.’” In fact, the musical fell so far short of its fundraising goals that Webber ended up taking out a second mortgage on his home to help get Cats the musical off the ground.

5. When Cats the musical came to Broadway, its venue got a huge makeover.

Cats made its West End debut on May 11, 1981. Seventeen months later, a Broadway production of the musical launched what was to become an 18-year run at the Winter Garden Theatre. But before the show could open, some major adjustments had to be made to the venue. Cats came with an enormous, sprawling set which was far too large for the theatre’s available performing space. To make some more room, the stage had to be expanded. Consequently, several rows of orchestra seats were removed, along with the Winter Garden’s proscenium arch. And that was just the beginning. For Grizabella’s climactic ascent into the Heaviside Layer on a giant, levitating tire, the crew installed a hydraulic lift in the orchestra pit and carved a massive hole through the auditorium ceiling. Finally, the theater’s walls were painted black to set the proper mood. After Cats closed in 2000, the original look of the Winter Garden was painstakingly restored—at a cost of $8 million.

6. Cats the musical set longevity records on both sides of the Atlantic.

The original London production took its final bow on May 11, 2002, exactly 21 years after the show had opened—which, at the time, made Cats the longest-running musical in the West End’s history. (It would lose that title to Les Miserables in 2006.) Across the pond, the show was performed at the Winter Garden for the 6138th time on June 19, 1997, putting Cats ahead of A Chorus Line as the longest-running show on Broadway. To celebrate, a massive outdoor celebration was held between 50th and 51st streets, complete with a laser light show and an exclusive after-party for Cats alums.

7. One theatergoer sued the show for $6 million.

Like Hair, Cats involves a lot of performer-audience interaction. See it live, and you might just spot a leotard-clad actor licking himself near your seat before the curtain goes up. In some productions, the character Rum Tum Tugger even rushes out into the crowd and finds an unsuspecting patron to dance with. At a Broadway performance on January 30, 1996, Tugger was played by stage veteran David Hibbard. That night, he singled out one Evelyn Amato as his would-be dance partner. Mildly put, she did not appreciate his antics. Alleging that Hibbard had gyrated his pelvis in her face, Amato sued the musical and its creative team for $6 million.

8. Thanks to Cats the musical, T.S. Eliot received a posthumous Tony.

Because most of the songs in Cats are almost verbatim recitations of Eliot’s poems, he’s regarded as its primary lyricist—even though he died in 1965, long before the show was conceived. Still, Eliot’s contributions earned him a 1983 Tony for Best Book of a Musical. A visibly moved Valerie Eliot took the stage to accept this prize on her late spouse’s behalf. “Tonight’s honor would have given my husband particular pleasure because he loved the theatre,” she told the crowd. Eliot also shared the Best Original Score Tony with Andrew Lloyd Webber.

9. The original Broadway production used more than 3000 pounds of yak hair.

Major productions of Cats use meticulously crafted yak hair wigs, which currently cost around $2300 apiece and can take 40 hours or more to produce. Adding to the expense is the fact that costumers can’t just recycle an old wig after some performer gets recast. “Each wig is made specifically for the actor,” explains wigmaker Hannah McGregor in the above video. Since people tend to have differently shaped heads, precise measurements are taken of every cast member’s skull before he or she is fitted with a new head of hair. “[Their wigs] have to fit them perfectly,” McGregor adds, “because of the amount of jumping and skipping they do as cats.” Perhaps it should come as no surprise that, over its 18-year run, the first Broadway production used 3247 pounds of yak hair. (In comparison, the heaviest actual yaks only weigh around 2200 pounds.)

10. A recent revival included hip hop.

In December 2014, Cats returned to the West End with an all-new cast and music. “The Rum Tum Tugger,” a popular Act I song, was reimagined as a hip hop number. “I’ve come to the conclusion, having read [Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats] again, that maybe Eliot was the inventor of rap,” Webber told the press.

11. Another revival featured an internet-famous feline for one night only.

On September 30, Grumpy Cat made her Broadway debut in Cats, briefly taking the stage with the cast. Despite being named Honorary Jellicle Cat, she hated every minute of it.

11 Words That Started Out As Spelling Mistakes

A woman sneezing, which in Middle English would have been called a fneze instead.
A woman sneezing, which in Middle English would have been called a fneze instead.
iStock.com/Dirima

The word irregardless might not be to everyone’s taste, but there’s no denying that if you were to use it in a sentence, you’d be perfectly understood—and that’s more than enough evidence for it to have been accepted into many dictionaries (albeit flagged as non-standard or informal), including Oxford Dictionaries, Merriam-Webster, and even the hallowed Oxford English Dictionary, which has so far been able to trace it back as far as 1912. So despite it having its origins in an error, and irregardless of what you might think of it, there’s no denying irregardless is indeed a word—and it’s by no means alone.

1. Expediate

Meaning “to hasten” or “to complete something promptly,” the verb expediate is thought to have been invented by accident in the early 1600s when the adjective form of expedite, meaning “ready for action” or “alert,” was misspelled in an essay by the English politician Sir Edwin Sandys (it was later corrected).

2. Culprit

There are several different accounts of the origin of culprit, but all of them seem to agree that the word was born out of a mistake. Back when French was still the language of the law in England in the Middle Ages (a hangover from the days of the Norman Conquest), the phrase Culpable, prest d’averrer nostre bille—literally “guilty, ready to prove our case”—was apparently the stock reply given by the Clerk of the Crown whenever a defendant gave a plea of not guilty. In the court records, this fairly long-winded phrase was often abbreviated just to cul. prit., and, as the Oxford English Dictionary explains, “by a fortuitous or ignorant running together of the two,” the word culprit was born.

3. Despatch

Despatch is a chiefly British English variant of dispatch, often used only in formal contexts like the name of the political despatch box in the House of Commons. The e spelling apparently began as a phonetic variation of the original I spelling, but after Samuel Johnson included it in his Dictionary of the English Language in 1755, its use was legitimized and thrived in the 19th century. Because Johnson himself preferred the I spelling in his own writings, however, it's supposed that he included the e spelling by mistake and inadvertently popularized the error.

4. Nickname

Nicknames were originally called eke names, with the verb eke used here in the sense of “to make longer” or “to provide an addition.” Sometime in the 13th century, however, “an eke-name” was mistakenly interpreted as “a neke-name,” and the N permanently jumped across from the indefinite article an to the verb eke. The same error—known linguistically as “rebracketing” or “junctural metanalysis”—is responsible for nadders, numpires, and naprons all losing their initial Ns in the Middle English period.

5. Ammunition

Ammunition derives from a faulty division of the French la munition, which was incorrectly misheard as l'amonition by French soldiers in the Middle Ages, and it was this mistaken form that was borrowed into English in the 1600s.

6. Scandinavia

Scandinavia was originally called Scadinavia, without the first N, and is thought to take its name from an island, perhaps now part of the Swedish mainland, called Scadia. According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the extra N was added in error by the Roman scholar Pliny the Elder, and has remained in place ever since.

7. Syllabus

If all had gone to plan in the history of the word syllabus, those two Ls should really be Ts: Syllabus was coined as a Latin misreading of an Ancient Greek word, sittybos, meaning “a table of contents.”

8. Sneeze

Oddly, sneeze was spelled with an F and not an S, fneze, in Middle English, which gives weight to the theory that it was probably originally coined onomatopoeically. At least one explanation of why the letter changed suggests that this F inadvertently became an S sometime in the 15th century due to continual misreadings of the long lowercase f as the old-fashioned long S character, ſ.

9. Ptarmigan

The ptarmigan is a bird of the grouse family, found in mountainous and high-latitude environments. Its bizarre name with its initial silent P is something of a mystery, as the original Scots word from which it derives, tarmachan, shows no evidence of it and there’s little reason why one should ever have to have been added to it—except, of course, if it were a mistake. The P spelling first emerged in the late 1600s, and is thought to have been a mistaken or misguided attempt to ally the name to the Greek word for a wing, pteron, and eventually this unusual P spelling replaced the original one.

10. Sherry

Sherry takes its name from the southern Spanish port of Xeres (now Jerez de la Frontera in Cádiz) and was originally known as vino de Xeres, or “wine of Xeres.” This name then morphed into sherris when sherry first began to be talked about in English in the early 17th century, but because of that final S, it didn’t take long for that to be misinterpreted as a plural. Ultimately, a mistaken singular form, sherry, emerged entirely by mistake in the early 1600s.

11. Pea

Another word that developed from a plural-that-actually-wasn’t is pea. One pea was known as a pease in Middle English, but because of that final “s” sound, pease was quickly misinterpreted as a plural, giving rise to a misguided singular form, pea, in the 17th century. The actual plural of pease in Middle English, incidentally, was pesen.

This list first ran in 2016.

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