The oldest living man in America wakes on his couch at 4:25 a.m. and wonders if it’s still raining. On May 11, he turned 112, “And I have no pains, no aches.”
The blinds of his home are drawn. The drizzle from an overnight storm falls onto the trees. “Turn on the lights,” he says to his caregiver, who sat by his side all night waiting for Richard Overton to open his eyes.
He’s helped onto a scale: a perfect 125 pounds. His blood pressure is a solid 110 over 80.
On this morning, the supercentenarian sits in his favorite recliner. He reaches for his cigar box and unwraps two Tampa Sweet Perfectos — one for now, one tucked in his shirt pocket for later.
The sun has yet to rise. The birds aren’t singing. And the rain is still drizzling. Yesterday, a constant storm kept him from the thing he loves most.
If the weather is nice, Overton sits on his front porch. His friends call it his “stage.” He’ll hum with the birds, snoop on his neighbors, wave at honking cars. Best of all, it’s where he smokes most of his 12 daily cigars.
For now, the dark sky is a mystery. Overton reclines, passing the time with three cigars until the first glimmer sneaks between the blinds.
“There she is,” he says with a smile, smoking one more Tampa Sweet before putting in his teeth.
Life has slowed year by year for the lifelong Austin resident. He was born in 1906, the year of the first wireless radio broadcast and a year before Oklahoma statehood. He fought in World War II in a segregated Army unit; afterward, he spent the bulk of his career working at furniture stores, then at the Texas Department of Treasury.
Now he’s the oldest man in America, verified by the Gerontology Research Group — and the oldest veteran. Every day, strangers stop by the house on Richard Overton Avenue to take his picture or shake his hand. He’s even featured on a mural down the street from his home.
Overton lived an entire life of anonymity before acquiring fame. In 2006, at 100, Overton was just a retired man who liked garage sales, yard work and driving his Monte Carlo.
At 106 he met President Barack Obama, politicians, athletes and celebrities. Comedian Steve Harvey once asked him his secret. Overton’s reply? “Just keep living, don’t die.”
Every morning, his caregivers make him multiple cups of coffee. Overton takes it with three spoonfuls of sugar and a plastic straw. He likes sweet things: waffles, pancakes or cinnamon rolls for breakfast. He enjoys ice cream and peach cobbler for dessert. He loves Dr Pepper, which he calls “sweet juice.”
His four caregivers switch between 12-hour shifts. They do anything Overton wants. Massage his feet. Pull up the blinds. Pour him his favorite drink, a whiskey and Coke. He can be demanding, because even with his loss of independence he’s still the man of the house.
Overton likes routines. He listens to the Isley Brothers and wears his favorite World War II veteran hat. He exercises, swinging his legs back and forth as he sits.
And he still travels. Last summer, he flew to Memphis with his cousins for a family reunion.
Overton likes to mess with people. He has terms of endearment for those he loves, words not appropriate for a family newspaper. He’s also a ladies’ man, flirting with caregivers.
He has outlived nine siblings, a wife and ex-wife. He never had kids. He has a first cousin who lives down the street, and a third cousin stops by daily. In December 2016, a family member created a GoFundMe page to finance his 24/7 in-home care that has raised more than $234,000, much already spent.
Once it’s gone and the caregivers go, they fear he will, too.
Overton doesn’t worry about death. “I didn’t know when I came here, and I don’t know when I’m going,” he said. “That’s God’s work.”
His main concern is the weather. And by 10 a.m., the forecast of sunny and mid-80s is perfect for the stage. He’s had six cigars, a cinnamon roll and a glass of milk. Now he’s helped to his feet and grips his walker. A lit cigar is folded between his fingers with three more tucked in his shirt pocket.
He shuffles toward the front windows, leaving a smoky trail. When the door opens, a breeze kisses his cheek. He exhales.
“It always feels good out here.”
He sits in the only lawn chair that’s bathing in the sun. The birds are singing, so he hums along. He smiles at the blue sky and waves at his neighbor.