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.
In her final years, she conquered social media and won herself the title of ‘Instagram’s newest IT girl’ at the age of 93. Her last post was just a week ago and was taken inside her Manhattan home.
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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
A week ago, Gloria – who had become a prolific Instagrammer in recent years – shared this photo from inside her home
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
Writing of her nanny, Dodo, left, Vanderbilt said in an Instagram pot last year: ‘Rollerskating in the park with my beloved Nanny who I called Dodo. She came to care of me at birth. My mother was always elsewhere. Dodo became the mother I never had and we were happy together.’ Right, a photograph of her mother and Dodo in the background. She captioned it: ‘I love this photo of my mother in Newport and my nanny Dodo photo-bombing. Likely 1925.’
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. Right, Gloria is shown with her dog in France before she was sent to America. She wrote of it: ‘Plans were already afoot to get me back to America. I’d hear whispers between Dodo and my grandmother, but I did not know what it meant and all that lay ahead.’
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
Vanderbilt made no secret of her romances and tried to remain friends with her exes. Above is one of her Instagram posts from the last few years in which she describes her friendship with Sinatra
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
THE ‘POOR LITTLE RICH GIRL’ FROM THE LEGENDARY VANDERBILT FAMILY
The case made headlines for weeks
Gloria Laura Vanderbilt was the daughter of Reginald Claypoole Vanderbilt and his second wife, Gloria Mercedes Morgan.
They married in 1923 and she was born the following year.
Her father was the great grandson of Cornelius Vanderbilt, the railroad tycoon and head of the prominent family.
A year after her birth in 1924, her father, who was an alcoholic, died as a result of cirrhosis to the liver. She was left with a $5million trust fund but had no siblings other than a half sister who was 20 years older than her.
He had gambled away much of the $15million he came into as a 21-year-old.
She was taken by her mother, who was 20 at the time, to live in France but was left largely to in the care of her nanny.
Her mother and her twin sister, Lady Thelma Furness, who claimed to have an affair with the Prince of Wales before he met and married Wallis Simpson, were well known society figures.
According to reporting at the time, they flitted around Europe with little regard for the young Gloria. Because she was 20 at the time, Gloria Morgan was not allowed to take control of her daughter’s trust fund and she lived on installments from her own, significantly smaller windfall that Reginald had left her in his will.
In 1934, Gertrude Whitney, Reginald’s sister, decided to take action. She sued Gloria Morgan for custody of her niece.
The catalyst was when Gloria was brought by her mother by boat to America to have her tonsils removed. Gertrude offered to let her recover at her home on Long Island and Gloria Morgan jumped at the chance, leaving her there for months at a time.
Unlike Gloria’s spendthrift father, Gertrude had devoted her wealth to the arts and was the founder of The Whitney Museum still flocked to today.
She enrolled Gloria in school then took the legal steps to obtain guardianship of her.
The trial which ensued gave the public, which had been crushed by the Depression, an irresistible glimpse into the lives of one of the country’s richest families.
There were anecdotes of royalty, pornography, accusations of lesbianism. Ultimately Gertrude won and was given custody of her.
Gloria Morgan, her mother, was told she could see her on weekends. In 1946, when Gloria was 22, she cut her mother off financially and started donating the $21,000 she had been giving her as an allowance to charity.
She then lived until her death with her twin sister, between New York and California, until her death in 1965.
Gertrude died in 1942, when Gloria was 18. She was, by then, married to her first husband.
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 movie-struck, 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.
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.
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.
Gloria is pictured with her third husband, the Hollywood producer Sidney Lumet, who she married in 1956
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
Gloria continued to mourn Carter throughout her life. In an Instagram post last July, she commemorated the 30th anniversary of his death
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.
‘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
‘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.
‘An amazing woman with a wicked sense of humor’: Tributes to Gloria Vanderbilt after her death at the age of 95
Tributes flooded social media on Monday after news of Gloria’s death emerged. Among them was one from Andy Cohen, one of Anderson Cooper’s friends.
‘Gloria Vanderbilt was an amazing woman who lived a life filled with incredible peaks and impossible obstacles.
‘Through it all she remained eternally optimistic with a wicked sense of humor.
‘In fact, Anderson’s iconic and infectious giggle comes from his mom. Sending Anderson all my love, and may she Rest In Peace,’ he said.
‘What an extraordinary woman. What an extraordinary life. My friend and colleague Anderson Cooper remembers his exceptional mother, Gloria Vanderbilt. Watch this,’ Poppy Harlow said, sharing a video of Cooper’s touching tribute.
She was presenting her show when Cooper announced the news and was reduced to tears by his words.
‘What a touching tribute to Gloria Vanderbilt from her son Anderson Cooper. My sympathies to you Anderson and to your family! Fashion icon and artist Gloria Vanderbilt dies at 95,’ April Ryan said.
‘This is so beautiful. A glimpse into the life of an incredible woman. Rest In Peace,’ Alyssa Milano tweeted.
‘What a beautiful, heartfelt tribute by Anderson Cooper to his mother,’ Ana Navarro Cardenas tweeted.
‘Thinking of my splendid CNN colleague Anderson Cooper on the loss of his beloved mother,
‘She led a long and remarkable life, filled with triumph and tragedy, as chronicled in the moving book she and Anderson published in ‘16, The Rainbow Comes and Goes. RIP,’ David Axlerod said.
‘The first “influencer” to put her name on clothing–with a SWAN logo! The head of an American dynasty, making a great version of the most democratic clothing item,’ GQ style write Rachel Seville Tashjian said.
Kathy Griffin also shared a tribute to Vanderbilt. She and Anderson Cooper have not been on speaking terms for two years since she posed with a bloody replica of Donald Trump’s head, something he called ‘disgusting’
Another tribute came from Kathy Griffin.
She and Anderson have not been on speaking terms since her widely condemned stunt with a bloody replica of Trump’s severed head.
On Instagram, she wrote on Monday: ‘I lost a friend today. The one and only Gloria Vanderbilt. I loved her so much.
‘She let me call her “Glo Vandi” and I would be so flattered when she would refer to me as her daughter. When we would have our alone time, we would sit on this sofa and talk for hours. No topic was ever off-limits and believe it or not I would even shut up for a while because, oh the life that woman lived.
‘I’d always plan on wearing something ridiculous to get her to laugh from the moment she opened the door. She would invite me to a book event, where I know I would be surrounded with so many intellectuals, I would always get overdressed and try to learn a new big word for the occasion! The dinner parties! I was so thrilled to be invited and spend more time with her.
‘Often at these events I would be quite intimidated and Glo knew what to do. She would stop the conversation and say “Kaaaathy, WHAT is going on with the Lohans?”
‘She would open up about her early life. The trauma she went through as a little girl & a grown woman.
‘The ups, downs of her life. Her candor was extraordinary. I have no photos of those private conversations. “Kathy, there’s always more and we’re never done”. I love you Glo,’ she wrote. She shared a collage of photographs of her.
Last of a dynasty: The story behind ‘poor little rich girl’ Gloria Vanderbilt’s family fortune, built in the 1880s and once worth $100million, and her private life scandals, including famous lovers, four marriages and son’s suicide
Gloria Laura Vanderbilt was born on February 20, 1924 to one of America’s most prominent families. She died on Monday at the age of 95 from stomach cancer and is seen above at aged 13 in a photo that was taken sometime in 1937
‘The poor little rich girl’ and grand dame of society, Gloria Laura Vanderbilt passed away at the age of 95 on Monday from stomach cancer. Vanderbilt was born into unimaginable wealth on February 20, 1924 as the heiress to the Vanderbilt railroad fortune; her life story is one marked by privilege, glamour, powerful friends, famous lovers, and penetrating sadness.
‘She wanted to feel it all, she wanted to feel life’s pleasures, its pains as well,’ said her son, Anderson Cooper.
Gloria was a mother, designer, philanthropist, writer, artist, and actress – a veritable Renaissance woman.
Scandal defined Gloria’s early life after her father Reginald Claypoole Vanderbilt, a drinker and gambler, frittered away his inheritance and died when she was just 18 months old. Too young to take control of her trust, her mother, Gloria Morgan, spent the the money on herself, partied her way across European soignee circles, including with the Prince of Wales, and funded her extravagant lifestyle by pilfering her daughter’s $2.5 million trust fund.
In 1934, Gloria was just a little girl when she became the center of a sensational lawsuit that was heard and reported around the world, it was dubbed as ‘The Trial of the Century.’ Gloria’s paternal aunt, Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney sued for custody of little Gloria citing the neglect and immoral influence of her mother as cause. Salacious details from behind the curtain of America’s richest family captivated the poverty-stricken public during the Great Depression. Whitney slammed Morgan with reports of her ‘alleged erotic interested in women,’ while the defense argued that Whitney’s work as a celebrated sculptor featured nudes.
Custody was eventually awarded to Gertrude Whitney, but Gloria was left traumatized and even more isolated from the event.
Years later, Gloria would write in her autobiography: ‘If you’ve never had a mother or a father, you grow up seeking something you’re never going to find, ever. You seek it in love and in people and in beauty.’
Gloria Vanderbilt had several careers throughout her life, including actor, and is seen above in a costume for the play, The Swan, in an undated photo
This raison d’etre set the stage for a lifetime of romantic interests with some of the 20th century’s most celebrated men: Howard Hughes, Frank Sinatra, Errol Flynn and Marlon Brando. Vanderbilt was married four times and had four children, most famously her son Anderson Cooper who has devoted his life to chronicling her immense life and in his words, ‘I always felt it was my job to try to protect her.’
While the Vanderbilts would become one of America’s most illustrious families, their roots stretch back to a humble Dutch farmer from the village of De Bilt in the Netherlands who came over to the colonies as an indentured servant in 1650, according to the book, ‘Commodore Vanderbilt and his family: A biographical account of the Descendants of Cornelius and Sophia Johnson Vanderbilt.’
The ancestor, Jan Aertszoon or Aertson, settled in what was then known as New Netherland, a swath of the East Coast that now includes New York, New Jersey, Delaware and Connecticut, and the village’s name was likely added to create ‘Van der Bilt,’ according to the book, ‘American Nations: A History of Eleven Rival Regional Cultures of North America.’
The man who built the family fortune wasn’t born until the next century: Gloria’s great-great-great grandfather Cornelius Vanderbilt. Born on May 27, 1794, in Staten Island, he was one of nine children. Growing up he worked on his father’s ferry, and quit school when he was 11. His empire started with one boat after he decided to start a ferry service like his father, according to a New York Times obituary about Vanderbilt.
Such was his love of boats that those around him called him the Commodore, a nickname that stuck to him throughout his life. From ferries, he expanded to steamboats in the 1830s, and after dominating that business, turned his attention to the railroads – a natural extension of his transportation empire.
By 1863, he had taken control of what was then known as the Harlem railroad, and merged later that decade the Hudson River and New York Central Railroads. This led him to commission a new station, the Grand Central Depot, which would later be finished by one of his descendants to become the Grand Central Terminal of today. The Commodore bought up real estate in his native Staten Island and Manhattan and also built other businesses.
Cornelius Vanderbilt died on January 4, 1877 and left his fortune – estimated to be $100 million – to his eldest son William Henry Vanderbilt. William Henry reportedly doubled the family’s wealth, and built its first mansion on Fifth Avenue. The opulent homes continued with his son, Cornelius Vanderbilt II, with the construction of 1 West 58th Street, which had over 100 rooms. His brother, William Kissam, turned to philanthropy, giving $1 million to build ‘tenement houses in New York city, as well as hundreds of thousands of dollars to Columbia University, the YMCA, the Vanderbilt Clinic and Vanderbilt University,’ according to Forbes.
Gloria’s great-great-great grandfather, Cornelius Vanderbilt, above, built the family’s fortune with his shipping and railroad empire, and at the time of his death on January 4, 1877 and left his fortune – estimated to be $100 million – to his eldest son William Henry Vanderbilt
During the Gilded Age, the family collected art and homes: 10 magnificent residences on Fifth Avenue, and houses in Newport, Rhode Island, according to Forbes.
The lavish lifestyle and charitable giving caught up to the family, and when William Kissam died in 1885, he had not grown the family’s fortune, according to the article.
By the time Reginald Claypoole Vanderbilt – Gloria’s father and Cooper’s grandfather – was born on January 14, 1880, the family’s ‘inheritance was dispersed between more and more descendants,’ according to Forbes, and his brother, Cornelius ‘Neily’ Vanderbilt III, ‘spent vast sums on maintaining a high society appearance.’ Meanwhile, the railroad empire built by Cornelius was changing, and the family’s role would continue to dwindle until the 1970s when it would go bust.
‘Every Vanderbilt son… has increased his fortune except me,’ Niely once said, according to the Forbes article.
Reginald Claypoole Vanderbilt, who was known as ‘Reggie,’ was a gambler who made the news not for what he built but rather what he spent, and reportedly squandered his fortune. He first married Cathleen Neilson in 1903 and together they had a daughter, also named Cathleen, before they divorced in April 1920. He then married Gloria Morgan about three years later, and Gloria was born the next year on February 20. The two daughters were left with a $5 million trust, with half for each.
After her mother took control of her trust and spent her money, her aunt, Gertrude Whitney, sued to gain custody and won.
‘She lived her entire life in the public eye,’ said Cooper of his mother. Vanderbilt attended finishing school at the celebrated Miss Porter’s School in Connecticut where other famous graduates were Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis, Lee Radziwill, Katharine Hepburn and Gene Tierney.
Leopold Stokowski, above in an undated photo, was a well-known symphony conductor and Gloria Vanderbilt’s second husband
‘I think we should always be in love,’ she once told Cooper in an interview. At 17-years- old, she moved to Hollywood where she made bed fellows with Hollywood’s most eligible (and not available) bachelors. ‘Every night I went out on dates with movie stars,’ she wrote in her 2016 memoir titled The Rainbow Comes And Goes. ‘To attract my attention they had to be famous and much older. It was totally inappropriate, not to mention dangerous.’
Things got serious with the producing, aviation magnate, Howard Hughes who was 19 years her senior. Admitting that she often looked for a father substitute in her romantic conquests, she categorized her relationship with Hughes as ‘wildly romantic’ and ‘extremely masculine;’ a far cry from the eccentric recluse he became later in life. Vanderbilt was candid when she said that the best thing about their tryst was: ‘sex not only worked, but it was the first time . . . that I didn’t have to fake an orgasm.’
When her relationship with Hughes didn’t seem promising in the marriage department, Vanderbilt briefly moved on to the famous womanizing on-screen lothario: Errol Flynn. ‘… 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.’
Months after she and Flynn parted, Vanderbilt married Pat DiCicco a Hollywood agent and alleged mobster, who her son Cooper described as ‘a gambler and rumored to have killed someone.’ Later Vanderbilt said ‘It was one of the greatest mistakes of my life.’ The cream of Hollywood’s crop attended their wedding which was held at the Spanish Mission in Santa Barbara and Vanderbilt spent the majority of her wedding night alone while her new husband stayed up late playing cards with Zeppo Marx of the Marx Brothers. In a 2017 interview with her son, Vanderbilt explains that she was ‘mesmerized’ by the man’s forceful and domineering personality.’ The couple split after four years because DiCicco was physically and emotional abusive to his teenage bride.
21-year-old Vanderbilt married just a few months later with yet another strikingly unsuitable match: Leopold Stokowski. She had known the 63-year-old British orchestra conductor for only three weeks before walking down the aisle. Stokowski built Vanderbilt a palatial mansion on a mountain in Santa Barbara called The Monastery and the couple had two sons: Leopold and Christopher. She wrote in her book that they were happy and ‘lived cloistered like a sexy monk and nun.’
But then she met Frank.
Gloria Vanderbilt, above, wearing a polka dot dress, while she was still married to Leopold Stokowski in an undated photo
After splitting from her husband, Leopold Stokowski, Vanderbilt dated crooner Frank Sinatra, and they are seen above at a musical opening at the tail end of 1954
Gloria Vanderbilt was married to Leopold Stokowski from April 21, 1945 to October 29, 1955, and had two children together: Christopher, who was born on January 31, 1952 and Leopold, who was born on August 22, 1950. Above, Vanderbilt and her lawyers on their way to a custody hearing with Stokowski on June 5, 1959
In a 2017 interview 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.’ It wasn’t long after meeting Frank that she decided her marriage to Stokowski was over in 1955. Frank was recently separated from his second wife, Ava Gardner, and was performing in New York’s Copacabana Club when he engineered a meeting with Vanderbilt. In her memoir she wrote: ‘As a lover, he made me believe I was the most important person in the world to him.’ But that relationship also was short lived, lasting only three weeks before he went on tour.’…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,’ wrote Vanderbilt.
In between Frank and marrying her third husband, film director Sidney Lumet; Vanderbilt took on a number famous lovers from Gene Kelly to the writer, Roald Dahl. Her one-night-stand with Marlon Brando soured after she noticed a large silver framed photo of himself sitting on his bedside table.
Unsurprisingly Vanderbilt’s third marriage to the legendary Hollywood director, Sidney Lumet was also a disaster, like her previous relationship with Stokowski; their courtship was fast and furious and they agreed to marry after dating just three weeks. Lumet showered her with love but in her book, she writes that Lumet was possessive and ‘wildly insecure;’ he obliged her to turn down three film opportunities to star alongside Sinatra for fear and jealousy that she might succumb to the intoxicating charms of ‘ol blue eyes’ once again.’
Vanderbilt’s way of saying ‘goodbye’ to an old relationship was by starting anew with someone else. After seven years with Lumet, she fell head over heels for Wyatt Cooper, a handsome screenplay writer with penetrating turquoise blue eyes. They had two sons, Anderson and his brother Carter, and remained married until his untimely death during open heart surgery in 1978.
In the years since the death of her fourth husband Vanderbilt also found success as a designer and writer, most notably with her line of designer jeans. The line was so popular she began to release more clothing multiple fragrances with cosmetics company L’Oreal.
Vanderbilt and Sidney Lumet were married from August 27, 1956 until August 27, 1963. Above, famous director Elia Kazan, Vanderbilt and Lumet in 1955 at the movie premiere of ‘East of Eden’
Gloria Vanderbilt and Truman Capote, right, were good friends, and, above, are at the opening performance of ‘Caligula’ in an undated photo
Above, Gloria Vanderbilt with her fourth husband Wyatt Cooper at Bob Fosse’s ‘Cabaret’ in 1972
Gloria Vanderbilt with her two sons, Anderson and Carter, at a fashion show in 1970
But tragedy struck again in July 1988 when her youngest son, Carter Cooper committed suicide by jumping from the 14th floor of Gloria’s Upper East Side penthouse apartment. Carter had graduated from 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. ‘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.’ 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…I thought of you and it stopped me.’
Vanderbilt has also said that in the wake of Carter’s death, she and her son stopped celebrating Christmas. Cooper describes his mother as ‘interesting and unconventional’ while pointing how happy he is the two have gotten closer over the past year and that in the end he managed to have some unique experiences growing up as ‘few people’s moms take them to Studio 54 when they’re 11.’
Above, Anderson, left, with his mom, Gloria, and his brother, Cooper sometime in 1980