Heiress, fashion designer, and socialite Gloria Vanderbilt passed away on Monday at the age of 95. Although in recent years she’s been most famous for being the mother of Anderson Cooper, she led a fascinating and dramatic life.
Gloria lived her entire life in the headlines. When she was a little girl, her mother and aunt fought over custody to control her trust fund. Although her aunt eventually won, the public court battle landed her the tabloid nickname “poor little rich girl.”
Her aunt would later disinherit Gloria anyway when the teenager ran off to Hollywood and got married without her family’s permission. Although a career on stage and screen never fully materialized, Gloria continued to explore her passion for the arts as well as high society throughout her long life.
At the age of 21, Gloria inherited a $4.5 million fortune. Keep in mind, this was in 1945–it’d be closer to $75 million today! She could have easily lived the rest of her life without working.
Instead, Gloria tried her hand at fashion design. After struggling for a few years, a chance meeting led to a warehouse full of denim and Gloria’s iconic “Perfect Fit” jeans. It’s hard to emphasize how big of a hit these jeans were in the 70s.
She had 4 husbands, including her abusive first marriage. Gloria was also married to Leopold Stokowski (the legendary conductor who appeared in the original Fantastia) as well as director Sidney Lumet. Gloria also chronicled a number of scandalous affairs in her memoir, including Marlon Brando and Howard Hughes.
Tragically, she witnessed the suicide of her son Carter, who jumped to his death from their apartment building at the age of 23 in 1988. Carter’s younger brother, Anderson Cooper, has been the focus of the latter-day stories about Gloria. The pair shared a special bond that they chronicled in a shared memoir called The Rainbow Comes and Goes.
Anderson Cooper released a touching tribute to his beloved mother on Monday morning. “What an extraordinary Life. What an extraordinary mom. And what an incredible woman,” he wrote.
Cooper confirmed that she was diagnosed with advanced stomach cancer earlier this month. She died at home, surrounded by friends and family.