Oldest Man Turns 115 in Puerto Rico

Tuesday, August 22, 2006

By FRANK GAUD, Associated Press Writer

ISABELA, Puerto Rico — The world's oldest man celebrated his 115th birthday Monday, offering advice on healthy living at a party where he was serenaded by a well-known Puerto Rican singer.

Emiliano Mercado del Toro, who was a 6-year-old boy when the U.S. seized Puerto Rico from Spain in 1898, attributed his longevity to a healthy diet and avoiding alcohol.

"I never damaged my body with liquor,"said Mercado, who quit a 76-year smoking habit when he was 90.

Mercado is listed as the world's oldest man by the Guinness Book of World Records. The world's oldest woman is Maria Esther de Capovilla of Ecuador, who turns 117 on Sept. 14.

"I never thought I would last so long,"Mercado said.

An ambulance drove him to an outdoor plaza for a party with family, friends and the local mayor. His favorite performer, Iris Chacon, crooned a birthday tune set to mariachi music.

"I feel happy,"said the wheelchair-bound Mercado, who has difficulty hearing and has been blind for four years. He lives in the northwestern coastal town of Isabela with his niece Tomasita Ruiz _ who is a sprightly 84 years old

Mercado said that as a young man he worked for 50 cents a day driving animals loaded with sugarcane to processing centers. He was recruited into the U.S. army in 1918, and was still in training when World War I ended that November.

Isabela Mayor Charlie Delgado said a homefor the elderly would be named in honor of Mercado, whom he described as a man who"ate healthy, had no major vices and has put this island on the world stage."

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NOTE: A version of this story moved Monday night referred to Mercado as the oldest living person. This corrects to say that he's recognized as only the world's oldest man.

Copyright 2006 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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