At 100 and recognized as the world’s oldest practicing physician, this Cleveland doctor is still going strong

CLEVELAND – By almost every measure, Dr. Howard Tucker lived an extraordinary life. To call it accomplished is an understatement. To say that he’s had a variety of adventures doesn’t tell the whole story.

The neurologist and World War II Navy veteran has practiced medicine since 1947, has a second law degree, was once flown from a mountaintop in the Alps and has survived both COVID-19 and a broken neck.

And now, 100 years into his life, not only is he still seeing patients twice a week at St. Vincent Charity Medical Center, but he’s entering a whole new phase as a rising TikTok star and the subject of a feature-length documentary.

His fans can watch as the mild-mannered doctor from Cleveland Heights throws a baseball, shares dating tips with Leonardo DiCaprio and tries a burrito for the first time. And yes, you heard that right, he has fans and millions of views on TikTok.

“We have people contacting us and asking, ‘Can we get Dr. Meet Tucker?’ ‘I live in Ohio, how can I meet him?'” said Taylor Taglianetti, a New York-based documentary filmmaker who is producing a film about Tucker’s life with Tucker’s grandson, Austin Tucker, called What’s Next?.

It turns out that by the time you’re 100, you’re a bit of a rock star.

On his 100th birthday last July, Tucker received congratulations from five of the six living US Presidents and Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau, and was personally serenaded by country music legend Dolly Parton.

And the next day he threw the first pitch at a Guardians baseball game. Taglianetti says they could set up some meetings with Tucker and his many admirers so he can answer any questions they have.

Oh, and there’s this whole Guinness World Records thing. In 2021, Tucker was recognized as the world’s oldest practicing physician.

“It confuses me. I just can’t understand it,” Tucker said of all the fuss. “People tell me you’re doing pretty good for a hundred, and I’m like, how many 100-year-old people have they sampled? I don’t think I’ve ever met another 100 year old person. I only met myself.”

But beneath the sincere humility, there’s a touch of childish joy in the fanfare that surrounded his centenary milestone. His intellect and wit are still intact and sharp as ever. And as it turns out, the application for the Guinness World Record was his idea, so to speak.

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‘A man died and according to the obituary he was a barber. He was in the Guinness Book of Records. He was 98 years old and the oldest barber in the world,” Tucker said. “That’s why I asked Austin if we should look at it.”

Austin did. And after months of inquiries and a lengthy application process, they got the news.

“Just before his 99th birthday we got the call that he got the record,” said the younger Tucker. “And that was the 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 almost a century of his existence, but also in seven decades as a medical professional.”

That’s when Austin Tucker says he realized that not everyone has grandparents in their 90s who still go to work, and also when he and Taglianetti, his former NYU classmate, began hatching a plan to to tell his grandfather’s story. At first, he says, he thought it would be something short — maybe a 10-minute profile. But once they started interviewing him, they realized they wanted to make a full-length film.

Sharper than ever

This slim, grey-haired man stands maybe 5.5ft tall with a sharp mind and an even sharper mind. He quotes Winston Churchill and Dorothy Parker and has thoughts on almost everything, having experienced or read more than most. It seems immediately obvious that this is a man who not only refuses to retire, but has likely never had a moment of inactivity, either physically or mentally, in his 100+ years.

He still works out two miles four times a week on the treadmill or stationary bike, reads the newspaper over breakfast each morning with his 65-year-old wife, then puts on a bow tie and heads to the hospital, where he still teaches neurologists and treats patients. And when the occasion calls for it, he has been known to stay up all night preparing a new medical lecture for his students.

His grandson says he even snuck out of the house to go to the hospital during the peak of COVID-19, then 98 years old, although the doctor remembers it differently.

“Well, I had to work,” he said. “I put on a mask. The hospital didn’t tell me to stay home. They said everyone should come to work. In medicine we have a responsibility. If you take it seriously, you’ll go through with it.”

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And as if medicine wasn’t enough, after 40 years of his medical career, he earned a law degree while working full-time and passed the Ohio Bar Exam at age 67. These days, on his days off from the hospital, he works part-time as a surveyor and reviews medical cases—an intellectual challenge he loves.

“I enjoy reviewing records as much as I enjoy playing golf. … And it’s less expensive, too,” Tucker said with a chuckle.

What made him decide to study law? He read an obituary about a man who was said to be the oldest man to ever pass the Ohio bar exam. was 62, he says.

“I think I beat him by 5 (years). I suppose I should call the Ohio State Bar and ask them,’ he said, glancing across the table at his grandson.

“I guess we have to now,” his grandson replied.

A little luck and a life well lived

There are some signs that Tucker is slowing down.

For example, he now holds on to the handrail when climbing stairs.

He no longer does the NordicTrack because he says his balance has gotten out of hand, and he only walks two miles on the treadmill at a time instead of three or four as he used to.

He also gave up skiing in favor of snowshoeing at the behest of his family. They would also prefer if he gave up driving, but Tucker says he’s not quite ready to hand over the keys to the BMW he bought at the age of 94. “I must not lose my independence,” he said.

He may also be the happiest man in the world. This month he received rabies vaccinations after being bitten by a bat and underwent physical therapy after falling down a flight of stairs that required spinal fusion surgery.

A decade earlier, in his 80s, he was walking away from a skiing accident in Colorado that fractured the second cervical vertebra — the same vertebra he points to that killed Sonny Bono and paralyzed Christopher Reeves. And in his 70s, he was blown off a mountaintop in the Alps in a basket hanging from a helicopter after he slipped and fractured his kneecap while hiking with his wife.

And yet he never lost his sense of humor. When the paramedic asked him if he needed a sedative to calm his nerves, he recalls asking, “Will it cushion the fall?” The joke, he recalls, got lost in translation.

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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 that 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 Jewish members of the medical school at Columbia University in New York. He later returned to Ohio to join the faculty at what was then Western Reserve University and worked at the Cleveland Clinic for over a decade.

As a doctor, he has seen the polio epidemic, the recent smallpox outbreak, the discovery of DNA, and the rise of modern genetics. And he has seen advances in technology that he could never have dreamed of before.

Twice a week, Dr. Tucker can still be found at St. Vincent Charity Medical Center. And if you happen to be his patient, he’ll probably spend a little more time with you. While he appreciates technological advances in medicine, he believes that this shouldn’t come at the expense of the doctor who listens to the patient.

“I’m always chasing,” he says. “The patient in front of me is the most important.”

Medicine used to be much more cerebral, he says.

“We didn’t have CAT scans. We didn’t have MRIs. We had our minds. … We had to think through a problem – that was fun at the time.”

Tucker says he’s never followed a strict diet or run marathons. He came home every night for dinner to spend time with his four children and then went back to work. He and his wife had a tradition of drinking martinis on Friday nights. The secret to his longevity, he says, is doing a little of everything—but not too much. “Everything in moderation,” he said.

What’s next?

“Oh, I suppose I’ll keep working until it’s over,” he says, speaking of his possible death with the clinical confidence of a doctor fully committed to what he knows medicine is cannot heal.

“You know, life,” he says, “is a deadly disease.”

What’s Next is in the final stages of production. To learn more about the film, click here.

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