Dr. Coles and Dr. Vaupel


Steve and Natalie Coles’ favorite portrait

Message from Mr. Johnny Adams, Executive Director, Gerontology Research Group:

It is with deep sadness that I announce the passing of our leader, teacher, mentor and friend, L. Stephen Coles, M.D., Ph.D.  He passed peacefully on Dec 3, 2014.  Steve is in cryopreservation in anticipation of future revival. 

His wife Natalie requested that if anyone would like to send anything to her, including cards, pictures, videos, or anything else, send to: Natalie Coles ncolesatgc@gmail.com

Steve’s discussion of the world’s oldest humans: http://www.youtube.com/embed/2O-SMJIS3Zs

GRG Webcasts: http://vimeo.com/user17742619/videos

For GRG business or to have a message forwarded to the family you may contact John Adams at JAdams – at – grg .org or call (949) 922-9786.Click here for L.A. Times obituary

Dr. Stephen Coles passed away on December 3 of complications of pancreatic cancer. He was 73.

L. [Leslie] Stephen Coles, M.D., Ph.D, was a Lecturer in Gerontology at the University California, Los Angeles, in the department of Chemistry and Biochemistry. Since he started teaching at UCLA in 1986, he taught for the Computer Science Department, the Surgical Department, and also taught at the Fiat Lux Program for Freshman.

He tracked the oldest people in the world for over 20 years, and published the most recent five years of his research in the journal PLoS ONE. Dr. Coles performed autopsies on 12 “supercentenarians,” people who are 110 years old or older, more than any other pathologist.

Photo of Steve in the Canyons
Taken by Natalie when they were married on June 30, 2007 

He is survived by a wife Natalie, a daughter Electra McBurnie, and one granddaughter, Cailyn McBurnie.


Message from Mr. Waclaw Jan Kroczek, Administrator, Gerontology Research Group:

It is with deep sadness that I announce the passing of our teacher, mentor and friend, James W. Vaupel, Ph.D.  He passed away on March 27, 2022. He was the founding director of the Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research (1996). One of the world leading experts in the fields of aging research, biodemography, and formal demography. He was instrumental in developing and advancing the idea of the plasticity of longevity, and pioneered research on the heterogeneity of mortality risks and on the deceleration of death rates at the highest ages.

Robert D. Young’s memoir of late Dr. James Vaupel:

Dr. James Vaupel (1945-2022)

Over 22 years ago, the GRG had just started tracking supercentenarians (less than three years) when Dr. Vaupel contacted both myself and Louis Epstein and invited us to the very first Supercentenarian Workshop hosted by the Max Planck Institute for Demographic Research in Rostock, Germany. This was my first time giving a scientific presentation, and meeting a world of experts in the field of demography, especially those noted for the study of supercentenarians, such as Bert Kestenbaum of the Social Security Administration, Dr. John Wilmoth, who had studied the Christian Mortsensen case (age 115 in 1998=Oldest Man on Record at the time), and more. This literally felt like the start of a new era, and it was. Dr. Vaupel would invite me back many times over the next 19 years, with the series being put on hold due to Covid-19 but expected to resume, perhaps Sept 2022. Sadly, it was not to be. Dr. Vaupel may have been 76.9 years of age on paper, and for some he lived a life close to the male life expectancy, but we alll know that he was ‘young for his age’, still an active professor at the University of Southern Denmark, still working on papers and science projects, still looking forward to more time for science, more time for cheerful academic discussion. But sadly, it was not to be. Those who know the details, Dr. Vaupel’s death was due to an accident, not aging. How ironic that a man who studied about lower mortality rates for the elderly, who knew so much about living so long, who was so optimistic about the future, sadly in the end was struck down by bad luck, although chance disfavors the older who are less stable, more frail, and thus more prone to falling.

We need to understand that while Dr. Vaupel’s 440+ scientific publication credits meant he was an expert in the field of demography far beyond the study of supercentenarians, for the study of supercentenarians he was one of the two “Pillars of the Field” who helped to get supercentenarian studies established as a systematic, organized, structured system of study. I’m talking about Dr. L. Stephen Coles (founder of the GRG, which has the world’s largest supercentenarian database) and Dr. James Vaupel (founder of the MPIDR and instrumental in the founding of the IDL, the supercentenarian database specifically geared to the study of mortality rates (demographic data on persons 110+ for extinct cohorts, especially). I am going to say this, I am the only person who knows this, so here goes: in 2000, Dr. Coles tried to get Dr. Vaupel to join the GRG, even putting Dr. Vaupel on the GRG website. Dr. Vaupel at the time wasn’t having it: he demanded his name be taken down. He saw the GRG as not reputable in the field (and there was a feeling in the scientific community that the GRG was for people promiting anti-aging supplements, etc.). But Dr. Vaupel was impressed with my presentation in Rostock Germany in 2000 and invited me back for approximately ten more supercentenarian workshops, including in Atlanta, GA in 2002; Montpellier, France in 2003; Taormina, Italy in 2005; Montreal, Canada in 2008; Madrid, Spain in 2011; Rome, Italy in 2012; Paris, France in 2014; Copenhagen, Denmark in 2015; Tallinn, Estonia in 2016; Rostock, Germany in 2017; Paris, France again in 2019, where Dr Vaupel led the defense of the Jeanne Calment case against the unfounded Russian conspiracy theory of ID-switching. At the time, it felt like and it was the most important, seminal moment for the niche field of supercentenarian study…to take a stand for scientific integrity vs fabricated allegations borne of conspirational fringe claims. And the case came out to the good; the vast majority agreed, after seeing several presentations by the presenters there, that Jeanne Calment was 122. And Vaupel was pleased, and I was too, and he invited me to dinner after the Workshop…just us two…and there he talked about future collaborative projects together. And notably, he brought up Dr. Coles, and he told me that Dr. Coles’ reputation in the field was very high (and held his hand up). It meant to me that, after almost twenty years, the GRG had finally achieved acceptance and respect in the mind of Dr. Vaupel and that was very important to me. It also meant that in my mind Dr Vaupel was the foremost expert in the field.

James Vaupel with Wacław Jan Kroczek at the Paris Supercentenarian Workshop Conference, 2019

As it turned out, I never saw Dr. Vaupel again in person. We did finish the Exceptional Lifespans book in 2020:


And even beyond that, more projects were under way in 2021, although the very last e-mail I ever received from Dr Vaupel was that the supercentenarians project he wanted to work on with me was delayed due to Covid-19. So in my mind we were just waiting for the storm to pass, to get back to the grind! But sadly, it was not to be. Dr. Vaupel passed away three days ago, not even 77. We shared the same birthday, May 2. Sadly I will have to be celebrating May 2 without “Jim” this year.

And for the others who were part of this same journey…notably Bernard Jeune, who over 20 years ago sent me some Odense monographs on supercentenarians…I hope we can continue Dr Vaupel’s legacy and carry on these supercentenarian studies, as he would have wished we would have done.


Robert Young

Senior Consultant for Gerontology, Guinness World Records

Director, Gerontology Research Group-Supercentenarian Research and Database Division

GRG Representative to the IDL

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