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Dung Xia Butterstick: 1772-2013

To say that Dung Xia Butterstick had a good innings is to make an art form of the understatement. The oldest man in the world until his death yesterday morning, Butterstick was born in rural Beijing as far back as 1772, making him 236 years old when he fell from the apple tree he knew so well and impaled himself on a scarecrow. Older than any tortoise, crocodile or life peer on the planet, as a younger man Butterstick claimed to have met Queen Victoria, Atilla the Hun and Jesus Christ. He also declared to anyone who would listen that he could remember a time when much of the world was still underwater, and dogs weren’t born. During these later years it became hard to distinguish between his renowned sense of humour and some very obvious signs of dementia.

As a child of the 1700s Butterstick enjoyed running around in rice fields, chewing rocks and making mountains out of molehills a talent he inherited from his father, Chang, who also lived to be over 200. Butterstick had a heart attack in 1835 173 years ago and took early retirement in 1841. He also had cancer for 82 years which, against medical advice, he treated with dock leaves and contempt. Interviewed by ‘The Oldest’ magazine in 1984, he attributed his good health to women, ladies and the opposite sex: “I try to partake in the rumpy-pumpy as often as possible,” he said. “mostly with younger women because they are more energetic and good for the spirit. My wife doesn’t like it but then she’s never done it for me, rumpy-pumpy-wise. Women in their sixties seem to find me attractive. Am I to turn them away?”

In 1958 his staple daily meal of rice, duck and vinegar was packaged as a best-selling book, “The Durability Diet”, selling well over 1,000 copies worldwide. Time, though, inevitably too its toll. His final 40 years were spent in his garden after he was declared too old to go indoors by the Chinese government. His last words, “get me a tissue, fatso”, were uttered as long ago as 2002. After that he became too tired to speak, turning instead to modern technology and issuing all his thoughts, needs and desires via text message. Butterstick died surrounded by his children, grandchildren, great grandchildren, great great grandchildren, and his cleaner, Orchid Sue. He is succeeded as the world’s oldest person by Nancy Syrup, an 84 year old resident of Kentucky, USA.

Anthony Anthony writes: I interviewed Dung for ‘The Oldest’ back in 1994. He seemed rather frail, though at 223 that’s understandable. What I do remember, though, is that he smelt really bad and had a sore on his toe that was exposed and weeping. When I pointed this out, he whistled for his dog, Papa, who came in and licked it. Dung claimed the antiseptic in Papa’s saliva would heal the toe, but on my way out I saw the dog convulsing by the front door. I also remember that as I shook Dung’s hand, one of his fingers came off in my palm. I still have it.