Absolutely Ancient People Who Are Still Extremely Alive

Absolutely Ancient People Who Are Still Extremely Alive

When Luke Perry died, we learned for the first time that people are mortal, and since then, things have gone from bad to worse. Life is fleeting, and a fair percentage of the people reading this will die before they reach the next sentence. (Look out!)

Anyway, other people, though, go on living. In fact, they stay alive so long, it's scary.

A Child Of A Civil War Soldier Is Still Alive And Receiving Benefits

Okay, just reading that headline, you know I'm bullshitting you. We're deep into the 21st century now, while the Civil War was in the 19th. The life expectancy back then was like 40 years, and that's before taking into account the lowered life expectancy from having to suffer through the damn Civil War. Soldiers from then could have had grandchildren with grandchildren with grandchildren with grandchildren with grandchildren alive now. But I'm not lying. A Civil War soldier named Mose Triplett had a child who's still alive today.

Triplett was just 16 when he joined the Confederate Army in 1862. Like many in his neck of North Carolina, he harbored Union sympathies, so after a couple years, he hopped the border to Tennessee and switched to the Union's Mounted Infantry. He did a bunch of dangerous stuff, took a bullet in the shoulder, and was hospitalized. But he survived the war and went on to live to 92, dying just days after a ceremony for the 75th anniversary of Gettysburg. Remember: Life expectancy is a stat all about averages, and if someone survives into adulthood, they've always had a reasonable shot of making it into old age.

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National Archives
Records say Mose was sober when he joined the Union. That wasn't a given with all soldiers.

Mose and first wife Mary had no children, and after she died, he remarried. New wife Elida was 50 years his junior. This wasn't totally out-of-the-ordinary in those days, and if you were looking for a husband in the 1920s, you could do worse than a war hero. They had their first child, Irene, when he was 83 years old and a second child when he was 87. After Mose died, the family continued to receive his war pension -- originally, war benefits were exclusively for widows whose husbands died in combat, but they expanded to widows of all kinds and to children too. Irene Triplett still receives a Civil War pension of some $73 a month today.

Life wasn't that awesome for Irene growing up. She dropped out of school after the sixth grade, tired of being taunted about her father being a traitor to the South. She moved into a county poorhouse and went right to a nursing home from there, and then to another. The Department of Veterans Affairs confirmed that she was still alive and collecting benefits in 2017, and the last time the media checked in on her this past Thanksgiving, she was still going strong. Family have invited her to come live with them, but she says the nursing home suits her fine. It's a great place to watch TV, do crafts, and chew tobacco.

The Original Motion Actress For Snow White Turned 100 This Year (And Is Katey Sagal's Stepmother)

Motion capture technology didn't exist all the way back in 1937, but something damn close did. As with motion capture today, animators back then relied on actual in-studio human movement to guide them. Reference models helped animation look realistic, and then some. The actors provided exaggerated movement to give the animators plenty to work with, so behind-the-scenes clips from then look more alive than today's live-action remakes.

If you wanted to dance for a living, it was either this or the pole.

The above video shows stuff from a bunch of movies, all the way to 1992's Aladdin, but it starts with Disney's first animated film, Snow White And The Seven Dwarfs. That actress at the start is Marge Champion, and she's still alive today, when everyone else involved in the production (as far as we can tell) is long dead. Marge was born Marge Belcher. She changed that because going for a career in animation with a name combining The Simpsons and Bob's Burgers seemed too on-the-nose.

Absolutely Ancient People Who Are Still Extremely Alive
via Wiki Commons
I can think of no other professional reason to change your name from "Belcher" to "Champion."

She was 15 when Disney hired her for Snow White. She'd danced professionally before that, teaching ballet from the age of 12. She modeled movement for Snow White and also for the dwarfs (sometimes two dwarfs at a time), then stuck around at Disney in the years to come, motion acting for the Blue Fairy in Pinocchio, a bird in Dumbo, and a particularly agile Fantasia hippo. She also danced in a bunch of other musical films, got her own sitcom for a bit, and was still dancing on Broadway at 81.

Champion married three times, the final one to director Boris Sagal. In 1977, Boris was filming a miniseries for NBC called World War III. A helicopter landed in a parking lot and dropped him off for the day's work, and when he got out, he turned the wrong way by mistake, and the helicopter's rotor blades sliced through his neck, killing him. We bring up Boris because we'd be remiss to omit any story featuring helicopter decapitation, but also because you might recognize his daughter Katey Sagal, who played Peg Bundy on Married With Children and Leela on Futurama. Marge Champion turned 100 last September, but the truly impressive part is that she has a step-daughter still alive in the year 3,000.

A WWII Sub Blew Itself Up With A Torpedo. Some Inside Survived ... And One Is Still Alive

When you have the fun and very real job of ranking all war submarines, you consider two factors: How many ships did they destroy, and how many tons of ships did they destroy? Based on both these, America's best sub was the USS Tang. It had a truly long and glorious history, right up till the day in October 1944 when it managed to shoot itself with one of its own looping torpedoes. That sort of error tends to leave a black mark on your record and to also kill everyone involved. One other US sub torpedoed itself, and all aboard died, save for one man lucky enough to fall off before the vessel sank.

US Navy
This story was later adapted into the motion picture Titanic.

The Tang sank too, and 78 from its crew of 87 did die. But when it toppled to the bottom of the Taiwan Strait, some remained alive in a pocket of air, including boatswain's mate Bill Leibold. They figured they had four or five hours of breathing time left, so they swiftly moved to priority one: destroying all their codebooks. These books weren't designed to self-destruct in seawater, and they'd cause major damage if they fell into Japanese hands. The sailors dissolved them by inserting them into batteries filled with sulfuric acid.

Now came the small task of getting to the surface. They were 180 feet below, which isn't that much on an oceanic scale but is still a hell of a lot to get through without a tank of air to help you. Bill and the other men ascended by using rebreathers, which helped but still left their noses bleeding. Once up in the sunlight, they were picked up by a frigate. Hooray! Only it was a Japanese frigate, and it also carried survivors from various ships the Tang had sunk. These survivors then took to beating the shit out of them, and the Tang men were like, "Well, can you blame them?"

The nine Americans spent the rest of the war in Japanese POW camps, which at the time meant starvation and torture. Back home, the military informed their families that they were likely dead, and several of their wives remarried. As for Bill Leibold's wife Grace, though, "missing, presumed dead" was a phrase that to her meant "don't stop believing." She remained hopeful, and when the war ended, Bill came home, now weighing under 100 pounds. He recovered totally, and their marriage lasted another 60 years till Grace's death in 2005. Bill himself was still alive the last time he was checked in on, putting him at age 97 today. He hasn't been shooting at enemy ships lately as far as we know, but we can't be sure. Subs use stealth now.

So Many Journalists Thought They'd Get To Publish Olivia De Havilland's Obit, And They All Died

Actress Olivia de Havilland is old.


On her last birthday in July 2019, she turned 103. Her most famous role was in Gone With The Wind, and the film's other three leads, including Vivien Leigh who was just three years her senior, all died more than 50 years ago. But de Havilland is still around today, and today, she's old.


She's so old that some of the men she was linked to romantically included Jimmy Stewart, Howard Hughes, and Errol Flynn from a bygone age. She had a son die in his forties 30 years ago. She campaigned for FDR, and now she's still around for another Depression maybe, because she's so old.


She's so old that after she was born in Japan, her parents eventually decided it was a good idea to move back to Britain for her health because Britain had a better climate, meaning that this occurred in a different geological age. Or at least it occurred at a time when moving to countries with different climates was the preferred form of health care as medicine was still primitive. The family traveled east via steamship, which made perfect sense in those days. But on the way, Olivia got tonsillitis, and her sister Joan Fontaine got pneumonia, so the family stopped in California halfway home and couldn't go any farther. And that's the story of how Olivia de Havilland wound up in Hollywood.

Absolutely Ancient People Who Are Still Extremely Alive
John Mathew Smith/Wiki Commons
This is her today. Just kidding, that's her 20 years ago. Today, she's old.


She's so old that she acted for 53 years, a lengthy career by any definition, and yet she's still managed to have over three decades and counting in retirement. Which means that even if you consider yourself a big fan of Old Hollywood, and you're familiar with her body of work, you'd still likely swear that surely she died at least one generation ago.

A couple years ago, Ryan Murphy produced the limited series Feud about the rivalry between Joan Crawford and Bette Davis. A bunch of other stars appeared as characters in the show, including Frank Sinatra, Marilyn Monroe, Gregory Peck ... and also Olivia de Havilland, played by Catherine Zeta-Jones. De Havilland sued. No one involved in the show could have predicted that de Havilland, now 100 years old, would be lively enough and sensitive enough to file a lawsuit. And in fact the judges all rejected her complaint (the First Amendment protects fictionalized portrayals of real people), though she appealed up to the Supreme Court.

We're lucky she didn't appeal again, saying, "I was alive when Edward Douglass White ran the Court! Legally, all of you answer to me!" If she did, she'd have been correct. Because she's so old.

How Do Bill Gates And Steven Spielberg Still Have Living Parents?

To be clear, I am not wishing death on either of these men's fathers, or on anyone else in this article. I want everyone to live long and healthy lives. But it certainly seems like when a man is that rich and successful, he would have outlived his parents decades ago. It's hard to picture them with parents at all -- when someone is special enough, it's easier to imagine them having been orphaned as a baby who'll only later realize they're the chosen one. As for picturing them having to check in with dad for approval even today, that's just impossible.

Let's start with Spielberg. In 1997, I read a Steven Spielberg interview, and I can't track it down today, so if you think I'm remembering it wrong or just making it up, that's fine. He was discussing The Lost World: Jurassic Park and said he'd considered saving that tacked-on ending of a T. Rex attacking America for a hypothetical second sequel. "But then I realized I might not be directing long enough to make that film," he said. Well, it's over 20 years later, we're getting Jurassic Park 6, and Spielberg is still very much directing. And he might still be directing for a long time. His father is going strong, age 103.

Arnold Spielberg joined the Army during World War II, and son Steven ended up making a bunch of WW2 films, seemingly culminating in Saving Private Ryan, a final tribute to his then-82-year-old father. But, well, Arnold went on living. He was still around 20 years later when Steven made Bridge Of Spies, about a Moscow incident Arnold was present for 20 years after he'd enlisted in the military. Arnold was also an engineer with General Electric. He invented the first computer point-of-sale terminal and designed the computer that developed the BASIC language.

BASIC was used by such computer pioneers as young Bill Gates, and if you think of him more as old Bill Gates nowadays and are counting on him soon dying and willing all his money to you personally, don't hold your breath. The man's full name is William Henry Gates the Third, and William Henry Gates the Second is alive today and surviving into his nineties. He looks like a cartoonist's idea of what a Bill Gates Sr. should look like. That's right down to being a head taller than his son, even though when you're in your sixties, you really don't have to be a head shorter than your father anymore.

Like Arnold Spielberg, Papa Bill is a World War II vet, and he co-founded the law firm PGE. In 2018, he revealed that he has Alzheimer's, which is why Bill Jr. has been pumping money into researching a cure, along with everything else he funds. And sure, Alzheimer's isn't much fun to come down with. But the way things are going, Alzheimer's or not, you or I should be so lucky to be kicking it at 93 (and to live long enough to see our kid spend decades as a billionaire).

Follow Ryan Menezes on Twitter for bits cut from this article and other stuff no one should see.

Top Image: Walt Disney

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