Gloria Vanderbilt, the iconic New York socialite and ‘poor little rich girl’ from one of America’s gilded age families, has died at the age of 95 after a brief battle with stomach cancer.
Her death was announced on Monday by her son, CNN anchor Anderson Cooper, who revealed that she died at home, surrounded by friends and family.
‘She was ready. She was ready to go,’ Cooper said through tears in an emotional obituary package which aired on CNN.
‘What an extraordinary life. What an extraordinary mom and what an incredible woman,’ he said at the end of it.
As part of his tribute, he shared a video of his mother giggling in her hospital bed.
The video was taken not long after she learned she had advanced stomach cancer which had spread throughout her body a month ago, he said.
Born Gloria Laura Vanderbilt in 1924, the 95-year-old lived a life of scandal, glamour and tragedy. Her cruel nickname, ‘poor little rich girl’, was the result of a highly publicized custody battle between her aunt and her mother who fought for her when she was 10 in the 1930s, after the death of her father.
She was married four times and had four children, including a son who killed himself in 1988.
Aside from her dynastic family, she was known as an actress, writer, artist and fashion designer who pioneered designer jeans in the 1970s with her eponymous collection of denim.
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Gloria Vanderbilt, the New York socialite and Anderson Cooper’s mother, has died age 95. They are shown together in 2016
Cooper shared a video of his mother laughing in a hospital bed as part of his touching obituary on Monday. She learned a month ago that she had ‘advanced’ cancer in her stomach that had spread to the rest of her body
As she neared the end of her life, Cooper said he told her that he loved her every time they left one another.
‘She said, “I love you too. You know that.”
‘And she was right. I’ve known it from the moment I was born and I’ll know it for the rest of my life,’ he said.
In a statement afterwards, he said: ‘Gloria Vanderbilt was an extraordinary woman, who loved life, and lived it on her own terms.
‘She was a painter, a writer, and designer but also a remarkable mother, wife, and friend.
‘She was 95 years old, but ask anyone close to her, and they’d tell you, she was the youngest person they knew, the coolest, and most modern.’
Vanderbilt had four children from two husbands.
She was married four times between 1941 and 1978 until the death of her fourth husband, Anderson’s father Wyatt Cooper.
He died after undergoing open-heart surgery.
Vanderbilt is shown in a photograph which appeared in Vogue in 1975
In 1988, one of her sons, Carter, committed suicide by jumping from the terrace of her apartment in front of her.
The daughter of Reginald Claypoole Vanderbilt and Gloria Morgan Vanderbilt, she lived a glamorous, charmed life and was a darling of New York high society.
But her childhood involved a bitter and contentious custody battle between her mother and her late father’s sister when she was 10.
Reginald died when Gloria was just one, leaving her in the care of her mother, Gloria Morgan.
He was an alcoholic who died of cirrhosis of the liver and left behind him a mountain of debt which pillaged his wealth.
What was left, however, was a $5million trust fund for Gloria and her older half-sister to share.
Gloria Morgan, who was 20 at the time and therefore considered a minor, was not given access to it.
Instead, the city issued her $4,000 monthly installments to care for her daughter but she used it frivolously.
Gloria was the daughter of Gloria Morgan Vanderbilt and Reginald C. Vanderbilt. Her father died when she was just 18 months old, not long after this photograph was taken in 1925
As a child, Gloria became known as ‘the poor little rich girl’ thanks to a highly publicized custody trial between her mother and her father’s sister, Gertrude Whitney (above with her) who sought custody of her because she said her mother was unfit to care for her
A young Gloria Vanderbilt is shown aged 11 at a horse show in Long Island, a year after being dubbed the ‘poor little rich girl’ thanks to a custody battle between her mother and her paternal aunt for her
Vanderbilt with her first husband, Pat DiCicco, in 1945, at their wedding reception. They married when she was 17 and he was in his twenties
Vanderbilt with Frank Sinatra, who she was rumored to have had a fling with between her first and second marriages. They are shown circa 1945
ANDERSON COOPER’S TRIBUTE TO HIS MOTHER
Gloria Vanderbilt, my mom, lived her entire life in the public eye. Born in 1924, her father Reginald was heir to the Vanderbilt railroad fortune but gambled away most of his inheritance and died when my mom was just a baby.
Gloria Morgan Vanderbilt, her mother, wasn’t ready to be a mom or a widow.
My mom grew up in France not knowing anything about the Vanderbilt family or the money that she would inherit when she turned 21. She had no idea the trouble that money would create.
When she was 10, her father’s sister sued to have my mom taken away from her own mother. It was a custody battle the likes of which the world had never seen .
It took place during the height of the depression, making headlines every day for months. The court awarded custody of my mom to her aunt Gertrude who she barely knew. The judge also fired the one person my mom truly loved and needed, her nanny whom she called Dodo.
As a teenager, she tried to avoid the spotlight but reporters and cameramen would follow her everywhere.
She was determine to make something of her life and find the love and family that she so desperately craved. At 17 against her aunt’s wishes, she got married. She knew it was a mistake from the get go.
At 21, she married again and had two sons with the legendary conductor, Leopold Stokowski.
The marriage lasted more than a decade. Then she met and married director Sidney Lumet and then my father, writer Wyatt Cooper.
Over the course of her life, my mom was photographed by all the great photographers. She worked as a painter, a writer, an actor and designer. If you were around in the early 1980s it was pretty hard to miss the jean she helped create, but that was her public face. The one she learned to hide behind as a child.
Her private self, her real self, that was more fascinating and more lovely than anything she showed the public.
I always thought of her as a visitor from another world, a traveler stranded here who’d come from a distant star that burned out long ago. I always felt it was my job to try to protect her. She was the strongest person I’ve ever met but she wasn’t tough.
She never developed a thick skin to protect herself from hurt. She wanted to feel it all. She wanted to feel life’s pleasures as well as its pains. She trusted too freely, too completely and suffered tremendous losses but she always pressed on, always worked hard, always believed the best was yet to come.
She was always in love. In love with men or with friends or books and art, in love her children and then her grandchildren and then her great grandchildren. Love is what she believed in more than anything.
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. when the doctor told her she had cancer she was silent for a while.
And then she said, well, it’s like that old song. Show me the way to get out of this world because that’s where everything is. Later, she made a joke and we started giggling. I never knew that we had the exact same giggle. I recorded it and it makes me giggle every time I watch it.
Joseph Conrad wrote that we live as we die, alone. He was wrong in my mom’s case. Gloria Vanderbilt died as she lived, on her own terms. I know she hoped for a little more time, a few days or weeks at least, there were paintings she wanted to make, more books she wanted to read, more dreams to dream but she was ready. she was ready to go.
She spent a lot of time alone in her head during her life, but when the end came, she was not alone. She was surrounded by beauty and family and friends. The last few weeks, every time I kissed her goodbye, I’d say, “I love you mom.”
She would look at me and say, “I love you too, you know that.” And she was right. I did know that.
I knew it from the moment I was born and I’ll know it for the rest of my life and in the end, what greater gift can a mother give to her son.
Gloria Vanderbilt was 95 years old when she died. What an extraordinary life. What an extraordinary mom. And what an incredible woman.
She was living with her daughter in France but Gloria was predominantly cared for by her nanny, a woman she called Dodo.
By 1934, when Gloria was 10, her aunt, Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney, sued her mother for custody of her, claiming she was an unfit mother.
The trial exposed the dysfunction of one of America’s wealthiest and most high profile families at the time.
Whitney accused Gloria Morgan of being a lesbian. In turn, she claimed Whitney’s art, which was full of nudism, would influence her daughter.
The tabloids feasted on the court battle, dubbing it the ‘trial of the century’ and giving the young Gloria the nickname ‘poor little rich girl.’
In the end, Gertrude was given custody of the child and the judge fired Dodo.
Years later, Gloria recalled her heartache at the decision.
‘She was my mother, my father, my everything. She was my lifeline she was all I had,’ she told her son in an interview several years ago.
Cooper said on Monday that his mother tried to live quietly but that it was impossible because of her family name.
A 30-year-old Vanderbilt is shown in 1954. At the time, she had been married twice
Gloria is pictured in 1954, lounging by a swimming pool. She acted in several plays and films
As she grew up, she socialized in Manhattan and charmed film and play directors until she made connections in Hollywood where she would find three of her four husbands.
Her first boyfriend when she arrived in Hollywood at the age of 17 was one if the biggest stars of all time Errol Flynn.
‘That was very brief,’ said Vanderbilt of their relationship to Anderson in 2017.
‘But I was so goggle-eyed at 17, I was so moviestruck, that these were like gods to me because all my life I had grown up as a child watching them on the movies and suddenly here they were looking at me and they were asking me out.’
In 1941, when she was at the age of 17, Gloria married Hollywood agent Pat DiCicco. Her son said on Monday that she instantly knew it was a mistake.
In an interview several years ago, she recalled how DiCiccio had been perilously accused of having something to do with his first wife’s mysterious death.
Gloria is pictured with her third husband, the Hollywood producer Sidney Lumet, who she married in 1956
Laughing at her naivety, Gloria told Anderson: ‘I thought, “well all he needs is me.”
‘Sweetheart I was only 17.’
The pair were together for four years before they divorced.
In 1945, when she was 21, she married her second husband, the conductor Leopold Stokowski.
He was 63 and she described it as love at first sight, despite the age gap.
They had two children together; Stanley and Christopher, and were married for 10 years before divorcing.
She was later linked to a host of famous men including Frank Sinatra and Marlon Brando and was frequently photographed with Sinatra and his son.
In 2017, she told her son: ‘Frank Sinatra’s the greatest friend.
‘Great to be with. I mean, he was just kind of the most amazing person in my life because he came along at a time when I thought I was trapped in a marriage I didn’t want to be in,’ she said.
‘I thought the man I was married to was God and he would never let me go, and then Frank Sinatra came along.’
She and Stanley remained close throughout her life but she and Christopher became estranged in 1978 when he accused her therapist of meddling in his love life.
Stan has three children, Vanderbilt’s only grandchildren, daughters Aurora and Aubra and son Myles.
In 1956, she married her third husband, the famous director and producer Sidney Lumet. They were together until 1963. Her fourth marriage, to Anderson’s father Wyatt, began four months after her divorce from Lumet.
Between raising children, Vanderbilt acted on Broadway and in films, wrote poetry and novels and produced wildly popular art.
In the 1970s, she made a name for herself in the fashion industry with her line of jeans – Gloria Vanderbilt Jeans – which were emblazoned with a swan and her name.
But her life was not without tragedy.
In 1978, Anderson’s father, her fourth husband Wyatt, died after undergoing open-heart surgery.
In the 1970s, Vanderbilt made her name in the fashion industry with her collection of eponymous jeans
Vanderbilt is shown with her fourth husband, Wyatt Cooper and their sons, Anderson and Carter in 1972. Wyatt died six years later after undergoing heart surgery and Carter committed suicide in 1988
Gloria with sons, Carter and Anderson in 1988, the year of Wyatt Cooper’s death (left). In 1988, Gloria’s son Carter (right with her) leaped to his death from the terrace of her apartment. He had been struggling with mental health and was seeing a therapist at the time but his mother believes medication may have triggered his suicide. He was 23 when he died
Ten years later, her son Carter leaped to his death in front of her from her apartment terrace.
Carter had graduated Princeton and was working as an editor for the history magazine American Heritage at the time of his death.
He had begun seeing a therapist in the months before and on the day in question showed up at his mother’s apartment and spent most of the day sleeping until early that evening.
At around 7pm he woke up and went in to see his mother, repeatedly asking her; ‘What’s going on?’
He then went out on the terrace and sat on the ledge with his feet dangling over the edge as his mother helplessly stood by watching her son.
Vanderbilt said at one point he asked her what the number of his therapist was and when she could not remember told her ‘F*** you” before reciting it himself and then going over the edge.
Gloria is shown in 2016
‘He reached out to me at the end,’ Vanderbilt had said in the past.
‘Then he went over, hanging there on the wall, like on a bar in a gymnasium. I said, “Carter, come back,” and for a minute I thought he’d swing back up. But he let go.’
Soon after she began to think that his death was due to some medication he was taking in the form of an asthma inhaler.
‘I was there when he did it, and Carter wasn’t himself,’ she said. ‘It was as if the medication had snapped him into another dimension.’
Vanderbilt would later reveal in an interview on her son’s now-cancelled talk show Anderson Live that she immediately considered killing herself after Carter went over the balcony.
‘There was a moment when I thought I was going to jump over after him,’ she told Cooper.
‘I thought of you and it stopped me.’
Vanderbilt also said that in the wake of Carter’s death, she and her son stopped celebrating Christmas.
As news of her death emerged on Monday, tributes from Cooper’s friends and generations of stars flooded the internet.
In her final years, her health deteriorated and her son though she would die more than once.
In an excerpt from a memoir the pair wrote together in 2017, Cooper recalled one occasion when he wad due to go abroad for work in 2015.
‘When she picked up the phone, immediately I knew something was wrong. Her breath was short, and she could barely speak,’ he wrote.
Vanderbilt was sick for the next few months, battling a respiratory infection, and told Cooper at one point; ‘I’d like to have several more years left.
‘There are still things I’d like to create, and I’m very curious to see how it all turns out. What’s going to happen next?’
‘I didn’t want there to be anything left unsaid between my mother and me, so on her ninety-first birthday I decided to start a new kind of conversation with her, a conversation about her life,’ he wrote.
‘Not the mundane details, but the things that really matter, her experiences that I didn’t know about or fully understand.’
Cooper also wrote at the beginning of the book; ‘My father died in 1978, when I was ten; and my brother, Carter, killed himself in 1988, when I was twenty-one, so my mom is the last person left from my immediate family, the last person alive who was close to me when I was a child.’
Vanderbilt is survived by three or her four children, two of whom she had relationships with until she died.