Biggest, smallest, oldest, tallest. Only relatively recently have we begun reliably recording the limits of what human beings can be, do or endure. Many marks are impressive, some concerning, still others just plain freaky.
Here are ten current titleholders who, when necessary, are compared to all-time records held by someone no longer living.
Top 10 Human Sideshow Freaks
The oldest verified human life belonged to Jeanne Calment of France, who was born on February 21, 1875. By the time she died in August 1997, she’d existed for 122 years and 164 days. Remarkably, she lived her final 34 years with no heirs, her only daughter having died of a lung infection in 1934, and her grandson in a car accident in 1963.
Calment was the super-est of an evolutionarily exclusive subset called supercentenarians, which defines people who live to 110. Less than 2,000 such individuals have been documented. Unsurprisingly, they often make headlines in both life and death; in April 2017 the passing of 117-year-old Emma Morano was widely reported, as she’d been the last living person born in the 19th Century.
Currently, the world’s oldest person is 118-year-old Kane Tanaka of Japan. Notably, Ms. Tanaka has already bested her countryman, Jiroemon Kimura, whose lifespan of 116 years and 54 days makes him the longest-living man ever. One aspect of her biography seems mathematically impossible: Tanaka was married for 71 years when her husband, Hideo, passed away… and that was TWENTY-EIGHT years ago.
Fifteen years ago, at age 103, Tanaka beat colorectal cancer, because why not. This May, she cancelled plans to participate in the Olympic torch relay across her homeland – but only out of health-related concern for her fellow nursing home residents. Tanaka is the third oldest person ever recorded. If she survives until late June of 2025, she’ll become the longevity recordholder.
I know: Of course it’s an American. U-S-A! U-S-A!
The heaviest person ever recorded was Jon Brower Minnoch of Seattle, Washington, who once weighed a whopping 1,400 pounds. Minnoch was always… um, let’s say “husky.” By age 12, he was nearly 300 pounds. Ten years later, he weighed 500. Obesity that extreme is rarely the result of diet alone: Minnoch suffered from generalized edema, a condition in which the body accumulates excess extracellular fluid. As much as half of Minnoch’s weight was irregularly retained fluids.
At age 36, Minnoch married a 110-pound woman; together, they set the record for largest weight difference for a married couple ever, which shouldn’t be a thing. Minnoch died in 1983, at 41.
The second heaviest person ever recorded, Khalid bin Mohsen Shaari of Saudi Arabia, has a happier ending, insomuch as he’s since shed his heavyweight title. In fact, he lays claim to another record: the largest weight loss in human history. Over four years, Shaari lost nearly TWELVE HUNDRED POUNDS, and today is a healthy 150.
Shaari’s successor, Juan Pedro Franco of Mexico, fortunately followed suit. Topping out at 1,312 pounds, Franco dropped nearly 900 pounds to relinquish his titanium-reinforced throne. The dramatic dieting was well-timed, because he recently caught a bout of the coronavirus.
Currently, the “world’s heaviest human” category is officially vacant, though four other people known to have weighed at least 1,000 pounds remain alive. Three are (what else?) Americans.
NINE feet tall? Well, almost. While stories abound of people eclipsing that remarkable mark, the tallest person ever irrefutably measured was American Robert Wadlow, who stretched to a gangly 8 feet, 11.1 inches. Born in 1918, Wadlow’s height was off the charts from the get-go. By age 5, he was a shocking 5 feet, 4 inches; by 8, he was scraping 6 feet.
Unfortunately, this was neither normal nor sustainable. Wadlow’s record-setting length was caused by pituitary gland hyperplasia, which leads to runaway production of human growth hormone. No viable treatment existed in the 1930s. Wadlow passed away of sepsis in 1940 at just 22, after a leg brace worn due his massive height caused a severe infection.
Currently, the first person in the world to realize it’s raining is 38-year-old Turkish farmer Sultan Kösen. In 2009, Kösen became the first in over 20 years to officially eclipse 8 feet tall; today he is 8 feet, 2.8 inches. He has the longest hands (11.22 inches) of any living person, and the second-longest feet (14 inches).
The cause of Kösen’s exceptional height is a pituitary tumor. Fortunately, in 2010 he received radiation treatment that successfully halted his unsustainable growth. Here he is making average size things look tiny.
Notably, per the next entry, Kösen once met his record-setting counterpart…
In November 2014, tallest living man Sultan Kösen of Turkey met the shortest living man – in fact, the shortest person in recorded history. The visual was… um, unsettling actually.
Born in Nepal in 1939, Chandra Bahadur Dangi never really grew up – he just got older. Due to the remoteness of his hometown – Dangi lived in the isolated village of Reemkholi, some 250 miles from Kathmandu – his disturbingly diminutive stature wasn’t officially recognized until 2012.
A primordial dwarf, which sounds badass but doesn’t seem fun IRL, Dangi was exceptionally tiny from birth. His peak height was an astounding 1 foot, 9½ inches, half an inch shorter than the previous recordholder. Unfortunately, his claim to shortest man alive was, well, short-lived. Dangi died in 2015, at age 75.
Dangi’s death passed the tiny torch to Junrey Balawing of the Philippines… until the 23.6-inch man passed away last year. Today, the shortest living man is Lin Yü-chih of Taiwan, who at 2 feet, 2.6 inches towers over his predecessors.
Lin Yü-chih is not, however, the shortest person alive. That honor goes to Jyoti Amge, a 27-year-old woman from India. At 2 feet, 0.7 inches tall, Amge is the third shortest woman in recorded history. In 2014, she appeared in the refreshingly un-woke “American Horror Story: Freak Show,” as a character called Ma Petite – though it was, literally, just a small role.
This might be the list’s only guessable answer: Jamaican sprinter Usain Bolt has the fastest sprint ever recorded.
Or, rather, sprints – with an s: Bolt holds the record in the 100 meters (9.58 seconds) AND 200 meters (19.19 seconds). He maxed out at 27.8 miles per hour – the fastest speed ever achieved by a human, and faster than most dogs (not Greyhounds, of course, who can reach 45mph.)
Even more impressive than Bolt’s sheer speed is its longevity. In a sport whose uber-peak performance typically means brief careers, many still consider Bolt the current fastest person on Earth despite setting his records 12 years ago – and despite retiring in 2017. Their reasoning is twofold. First, Bolt is the only sprinter to win 100-meter and 200-meter titles at three consecutive Olympics, starting in 2008.
Secondly, current sprinters aren’t approaching Bolt’s times. The favorite entering the current Olympic Games, American Trayvon Bromell, boasts a top time of 9.77 seconds – nearly two-tenths of a second off Bolt’s pace in a sport where two-tenths of a second is a lifetime. Ultimately, Lamont Jacobs of Italy took gold, with a time of 9.8 seconds. Were Bolt to get back in peak shape and return, he might very well reclaim his throne – even at the ripe old age of 34.
5 Smartest (Highest IQ)
Let’s set some guardrails around this entry, because “smartness” has too many variables to be objectively quantified. For example, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg is undoubtedly exceptionally smart… but exceptionally awful at anticipating consequences, reacting to real-time problems and, especially, optics.
But in terms of sheer intellect, IQ is the best, albeit imperfect, measurement of smartness. And though he never took a formal test, experts place the IQ of American William Sidis between 250 and 300 – an incredible 50-100 points higher than Albert Einstein. Sidis was reading newspapers before age 2 and, by 6, spoke Latin, French, German, Russian, Hebrew, Turkish and Armenian in addition to his native English. He entered Harvard University at 11.
Sidis’ adulthood, however, was far less remarkable. Tired of the attention and expectations tied to his wunderkind status, Sidis receded from the limelight and became a reclusive writer – so reclusive, in fact, that he published most of his books under pseudonyms. He died from a brain hemorrhage at age 46.
So who’s the smartest now? Well, it’s complicated. In the 1980s, American Marilyn vos Savant registered a 228… so incredible, in fact, that Guinness eliminated the “Highest IQ” category shortly thereafter. Currently, the top-ranked person in the World Genius Directory is chess player Konstantinos Ntalachanis, who has scored as high as 230 on IQ tests.
Larry Gomez of Mexico has a rare genetic disorder known as Congenital Generalized Hypertrichosis, which affects less than 100 people in the world. As a result, he has hair covering an unbelievable 98 percent of his body. Apparently less than 10 people in the world have hair covering at least 95% of their bodies, and lucky Larry is the wooliest mammal.
His nickname? Why, “Wolf Man,” of course. And along with his hair, the plot gets thicker – because Larry isn’t a lone wolf. His wolfpack holds the Guinness record for Hairiest Large Family, which shouldn’t be a thing. Seen here with Gabriel “Danny” Ramos Gomez, Luisa Lilia De Lira Aceves and Jesus Manuel Fajardo Aceves, Larry and his kin are among 19 family members spanning five generations with Hypertrichosis. Larry and Danny perform in the Mexican National Circus, probably to cover their shampoo expenses.
Hypertrichosis has an even rarer sub-disease called Ambras Syndrome, which claims only about 50 confirmed cases since the Middle Ages. One sufferer is Thailand native Supatra Susuphan. By age 11, she’d already been deemed the world’s hairiest girl. Her nicknames have included Wolf Girl, Monkey Face and Chewbacca, who is probably the worst Star Wars character to resemble besides maybe Jabba the Hutt.
But alas, this saga has a happy ending: In 2018 Susuphan got married. As of this writing, the couple was still living hairily ever after.
Um… some ugly college kid on Twitter perhaps?
Just kidding. This entry isn’t about PC woke, but rather physically woke – as in not asleep. While it’s likely that someone – chronic insomniac, tortured prisoner of war, anyone who’s coached the New York Jets – has gone sleepless for longer stretches, the official record for consecutive wakefulness belongs to American Randy Gardner.
For a school science experiment to see how long he could stay awake, Gardner, then 17, went an amazing 264 hours – just over 11 days – without sleep, eclipsing the existing record by four hours. He and classmate Bruce McAllister purposely intended to surpass the 260-hour mark, which belonged to Hawaiian disc jockey Tom Rounds, who’d gained notoriety for setting the record while sitting in a department store display window.
Gardner’s record-setting stint started innocently enough – just he and McAllister. But when it became clear Gardner was literally up for the challenge, the two were joined by sleep researcher Dr. William Dement and U.S. Navy medic John Ross.
By day three, Gardner became noticeably uncoordinated, and experienced strong mood swings. After five days, hallucinations began. Incredibly, after finally tapping out, Gardner went not to bed but to a press conference. He was then given an electroencephalogram to study his brainwaves before hitting the sack for a solid 14 hours of sleep. Gardner is still alive.
This list’s newest record belongs to Pablo Fernandez of Spain, who from July 19-20 of 2021 broke the record for longest distance swim. Departing at 10am, Fernandez swam for 250km (155.3 miles) over 26 hours and 36 minutes.
Fernandez, though, had some help: an incredibly friendly current. According to Robert Strauss, the attempt’s chief observer, “The currents were going so fast. We calculated that Pablo was swimming 100 meters approximately every 40 seconds for 24 hours. He was flying.” By comparison, Olympic male sprint swimmers typically take 46 or 47 seconds to swim 100 meters.
Still, Fernandez is no splash in the pan – he actually holds several water endurance records. In 2019, he became the fastest to swim 5km with leg irons on, which is a really, really specific world record but sure, why not. In 2020, he broke the record for swimming in place when he tread water for 25 consecutive hours.
On the women’s side, the recordholder for an unassisted open-water swim is Australian Chloe McCardel, who in 2014 swam 77.3 miles in the Atlantic Ocean over a span of about 41 hours.
While impressive, McCardel was 29 at the time – peak physical shape. At least as impressive was 64-year-old Diana Nyad’s 110-mile, 53-hour swim from Cuba to Florida in 2013, which was considered “assisted” (and therefore not superior to McCardel’s mark) only because she used gear to protect from dangerous jellyfish stings, which had stalled her previous efforts.
A certain subset of the population – alcoholics – think your stories about how many beers you once drank are just adorable. People bragging to us about their ability to hold liquor is like boasting about sexual exploits to Ron Jeremy. Amateurs.
Still, this one guy did some epic damage. After a car accident causing him severe injuries, an unnamed man in Poland had a blood alcohol content (BAC) of 1.480%. For perspective, the limit to legally drive in the US, Canada and UK is 0.08%. Other locales, including the EU and Australia, deem anything over 0.05% too inebriated to drive.
That means our Polish friend’s BAC was, depending on the comparison country, approaching either 20 or 30 times the legally drunk standard. It is the highest BAC ever recorded in known history – a mark that, per this Blood Alcohol Content Calculator, would take a 150-pound adult male approximately NINETY ounces of vodka to reach.
Amazingly, according to doctors, the man survived his binge drinking episode… but eventually succumbed to injuries from the car wreck, because pavement.
Due to medical record anonymity, it’s impossible to know who the current BAC titleholder is, but the next highest seem to be a South African sheep thief (yes, sheep thief) who clocked a 1.41% in 2010, and a 24-year-old American woman who, despite a BAC of 1.33% – the highest ever recorded for a female – was somehow “alert and capable.” I think I’m in love.
Top 10 Extraordinary Human Abilities