Gloria Vanderbilt, Anderson Cooper's Mom and Fashion Icon, Dies at 95

Gloria Vanderbilt, famous for being a model, socialite and the last of a clan of millionaires, has died, son Anderson Cooper said. She was 95.

anderson-cooper-gloria-vanderbilt_getty-Rabbani and Solimene Photography : Contributor
(Photo: Rabbani and Solimene Photography / Contributor, Getty)

The journalist confirmed the news in an on-air obituary on Monday. Vanderbilt had cancer, he said.

"Earlier this month, we had to take her to the hospital. That's where she learned she had very advanced cancer in her stomach, and that it had spread," Cooper said.

"What an extraordinary life. What an extraordinary mom. And what an incredible woman," he said, his voice quavering a bit at the end of the remembrance.

"She lived her entire life in the public eye," Cooper said, referencing Vanderbilt's tumultuous childhood spent as the focus of a heated custody battle over her and her inheritance.

The artist, heiress, designer and philanthropist was descended from shipping and railroad tycoon Cornelius Vanderbilt, one of the richest men in American history. Her mother had her in 1924 and her father died shortly thereafter. She was raised by a beloved nurse because her mother was away in Europe living a high society life, and by 1934, tabloids were calling her "poor little rich girl" because of the sensational custody battle instigated by her grandmother and aunt.

"As a child, I did not feel that I was treated as a person. I felt really that I was treated as an object. And nobody ever really, kind of, thought, 'What is she really like? What does she like? What are her talents? What does she want really?'" Vanderbilt told radio host Lloyd Moss in 1981.

When Vanderbilt's aunt, Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney, won the battle against her mother, Whitney fired Vanderbilt's beloved nurse. Eventually, Vanderbilt developed her own creative drive and earned her own income.

"If you have to really work for it, when you do achieve it, even though it really takes longer, it means more," she told Moss.

Known for her paintings and collages, she tried her hand at designing everything from china to linen and by the 1970s was designing glamorous skinny jeans, her signature embroidered on the back right pocket of every pair.

Vanderbilt married four times, including conductor Leopold Stokowski, with whom she had two sons, and director Sidney Lumet. Later in life, her companion was the trailblazing photographer and musician Gordon Parks.

Her fourth marriage was to writer Wyatt Cooper, with whom she had two more sons. Wyatt Cooper died in his 50s; in 1988 their older son, Carter Cooper, died by suicide when he jumped from an apartment balcony as he was talking to his mother.

In an interview to her younger son, Anderson Cooper, Vanderbilt said in 2011, "I said, 'Carter, come back,' and for a minute I thought he was going to come back, but he didn't. He let go. And there was a moment when I thought I was going to jump over after him." But then she thought of Anderson.

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In her memoirs, Vanderbilt said that her children were her greatest achievement. "I believe that we have to cherish the pain we experience, as we cherish the joy," she told Lifetime. "Because without one there wouldn't be the other, and it's what makes us alive. And I think that's very, very important."

Photo credit: Rabbani and Solimene Photography / Contributor

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