CLEVELAND, Ohio — Dr. Howard Tucker lived an extraordinary life by almost any standard. To call him a successful man would be an understatement. Saying he’s had countless adventures doesn’t tell the whole story.
The neurologist and World War II Navy veteran has been practicing medicine since 1947, holds a second degree in law, has been airlifted to the top of the Alps, and survived COVID-19 and a broken neck.
And now, after 100 years of living, not only is he still seeing doctors twice a week at St. Vincent Mercy Medical, but he’s entering a whole new phase as a rising star on TikTok and the subject of a feature-length documentary.
His fans can watch the suave Jewish doctor from Cleveland Heights throw a baseball, give Leonardo DiCaprio dating advice, and try a burrito for the first time. Yes, you heard that right, he has fans and millions of views on TikTok.
“We had someone contact us to ask ‘Can we go see Dr. Tucker?’ “I live in Ohio, how can I meet him? ” said New York-based documentary filmmaker Tyler Taglianetti, who and Tucker’s grandson, Austin Tucker, are making a film about Tucker’s life titled What’s next?
Turns out, turning 100 can make you a bit of a rock star.
On his 100th birthday this July, Tucker received congratulatory letters from five of the six living people Solo serenades by the President of the United States and Prime Minister of Canada, Justin Trudeau, and country music legend Dolly Parton.
The next day, he threw his first pitch at the Guardians baseball game. Taglianetti said they might organize some meet-and-greets with Tucker and many of his admirers so he can answer all their questions.
Oh, and the entire Guinness Book of World Records. In 2021, Tucker is recognized as the oldest practicing physician in the world.
“It confuses me. I just can’t understand it,” Tucker said of all the fuss. “People say to me, 100 years old, you’re doing great, and I say to myself, how many 100-year-olds did they sample? I don’t think I’ve seen another 100-year-old. I’ve only seen myself.”
But under true humility there is There was a hint of childish joy in the hustle and bustle surrounding his centennial milestone. His wit and wit are still intact. And, it turns out, applying for the Guinness World Records was his idea.
“A man died and the obituary said he was a barber. He entered the Guinness Book of Records. He was 98 years old, the oldest barber in the world,” Tucker said. “That’s why I asked Austin if we should look into it.”
Austin did it. After months of inquiries and a lengthy application process, they got word.
“Just before his 99th birthday, we got a call saying he got the record,” said the young Tucker. “It was a wake-up call for me. It was an opportunity for me to really sit back and think: ‘Wow, I never really understood what my grandfather saw in nearly a century of life, and over seven years of practicing medicine . ” “
That’s when Austin Tucker said he realized that not everyone has grandparents in their 90s who still go to work, and when he and his former NYU classmate Taglianetti started brewing a plan to tell The story of his grandfather. At first he said he thought it would be short — maybe a 10-minute introduction. But once they started interviewing him, they realized they wanted to make a full movie.
sharp as always
This slender, white-haired man was about five and a half feet tall, with a sharp mind and an even sharper wit. He quotes Winston Churchill and Dorothy Parker and has thoughts on almost everything and has experienced or read more than most. What is clear is that this is a man who not only refuses to retire, but probably never spends his leisure time, physically or mentally, in his 100+ years.
He still works out 2 miles on a treadmill or stationary bike four times a week, reads the newspaper every morning at breakfast with his 65-year-old wife, then puts on a bow tie and heads to the hospital, where he still teaches neurology residencies and sees patients . When the occasion called for it, he was known to work through the night to prepare a new medical lecture for his students.
At the height of COVID-19 at the age of 98, he even sneaked out of his home to go to the hospital, his grandson said, though doctors’ memories differ.
“Well, I have to work,” he said. “I put on a mask. The hospital didn’t let me stay at home. They said everyone should come to work. In medicine, we have a responsibility. If you take it seriously, you’ll follow through.”
As if medicine wasn’t enough, during his 40 years in medicine, he earned a law degree while working full-time, passing the Ohio State Bar at age 67. These days, in his days away from the hospital, he also serves as an expert witness, reviewing medical cases—an intellectual challenge he says he enjoys.
“I get as much fun from looking back at the record as I do golf. … And it’s cheaper, too,” Tucker said with a laugh.
What prompted him to go to law school? He read an obituary about a man who was said to be the oldest person to pass the Ohio bar exam. He recalled that he was 62 years old at the time.
“I think I put him five (years) ahead. I think I should call the Ohio State Bar and ask them,” he said, looking at his grandson across the table.
“I think we have to do it now,” replied his grandson.
A little luck and a good life
Have Some Tucker is showing signs of slowing down.
For example, he now holds on to the handrail when climbing stairs.
He doesn’t do NordicTrack anymore because he says his balance is off, and he only walks two miles at a time on the treadmill instead of the three or four he used to.
At the behest of his family, he also gave up alpine skiing in favor of snowshoeing. They also wanted him to give up driving, but Tucker said he wasn’t ready to hand over the keys to the BMW he bought at age 94. “I can’t lose my independence,” he said.
He may also be the luckiest man in the world. This month, he is being vaccinated against rabies after being bitten by a bat and is receiving physiotherapy after a stair fall that required spinal fusion surgery.
Ten years ago, in his 80s, he emerged from a skiing accident in Colorado that fractured his second cervical vertebra—the same vertebra that, he notes, killed Sonny Bono and cost Christopher Reeves paralysis. In his 70s, he slipped and broke his kneecap while hiking with his wife, and he was airlifted from the top of the Alps in a basket suspended from a helicopter.
However, he never lost his sense of humor. When the doctor asked him if he needed a sedative to calm his nerves, he recalled: “Will it cushion the fall?” That joke, which he recalled, was lost in translation.
A Living Legacy: 75 Years of Medicine
There aren’t many working doctors who can see a patient and say, “Wow, I haven’t seen this in 50 years,” but Howard Tucker is one of them.
The neurologist received his medical degree from Ohio State University 75 years ago and was one of the first members of Judaism at Columbia University School of Medicine in New York. He later returned to Ohio to join the faculty of what was then known as Western Reserve University and worked at the Cleveland Clinic for more than a decade.
As a doctor, he lived through the polio epidemic, the last smallpox outbreak, the discovery of DNA, and the rise of modern genetics. He saw technological advancements he could never have dreamed of.
You can still find Dr. Tucker at St. Vincent Mercy Medical Center twice a week. If you happen to be his patient, he may spend some extra time with you. While he says he appreciates the advancements in technology in medicine, he doesn’t think it should come at the expense of doctors listening to their patients.
“I’m always behind,” he said. “The patient in front of me is the most important.”
Early medicine was more cerebral, he said.
“We didn’t have CAT scans. We didn’t have MRIs. We had our brains. … We had to think about a problem — so it was fun in those days.”
Tucker says he never strictly diets or runs marathons. He goes home every night for dinner, with his four children, and then goes back to work. He and his wife have a tradition of drinking martinis on Friday nights. He says the secret to his longevity is to do a little of everything — but not too much. “Everything is in moderation,” he said.
“Oh, I hope I’ll keep working until it’s over,” he said of his eventual death with a doctor’s clinical confidence, fully embracing the one thing he knew drugs couldn’t cure.
“You know, life,” he said, “is a deadly disease.”
What’s Next is in the final stages of production.For more information about the film, click here here.