NEW YORK – New York fashion designer and socialite Gloria Vanderbilt died Monday, her son, well-known CNN cable news host Anderson Cooper, said. She was 95.
Cooper, in announcing her death from stomach cancer, emphasized the “extraordinary” personality of his mother, who experienced a significant amount of both triumph and tragedy in her life, first rocketing to fame in 1934 as a 10-year-old amid a bitter and sensational custody fight between her mother and aunt after the death of her father, who before he died in 1925 had lavishly squandered and gambled away a $25 million fortune inherited from his grandfather and father, railroad magnates Cornelius Vanderbilt Sr. and Jr., but left Gloria a $5 million trust fund.
Her aunt, Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney, who controlled $78 million and founded the Whitney Museum of American Art, won custody of young Gloria.
During her long life, Gloria was married four times and became a fashion icon in the 1970s and 1980s as a designer jeans and fashion accessories pioneer. At the time of her death, celebritynetworth.com placed her net worth at about $200 million.
“Gloria Vanderbilt was an extraordinary woman, who loved life, and lived it on her own terms,” Cooper said of his mother.
“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,” he said, adding that she died at her New York home surrounded by friends and family.
Born in New York in 1924, Gloria Vanderbilt lived in France with her mother until the custody battle, after which she lived with her aunt in the US. An NBC television miniseries in 1982 chronicled the court battle, drawing from the 1980 best-seller “Little Gloria ... Happy at Last,” and was nominated for six Emmy Awards and a Golden Globe.
Cooper said that when his mother was a teen, she tried to avoid public attention, but reporters and photographers followed her everywhere. Nevertheless, she was determined to make a name for herself rather than just be considered a “poor little rich girl” and an heiress.
As a young woman, Vanderbilt went to Hollywood, dated celebrities and married magnate Howard Hughes’ press agent, Pasquale di Cicco, whereupon her aunt disinherited her.
But she came into her $5 million trust fund in 1945 at age 21, divorced Di Cicco, accusing him of often beating her, and married 63-year-old orchestra conductor Leopold Stokowski, a marriage that lasted 10 years and gave the couple two sons, Stanislaus and Christopher.
A talented painter and actress, she made her mark at fashion shows and art exhibitions, in television and in the theater, and her well-known name was associated with eight perfumes marketed by L’Oreal between 1982 and 2002.
She also married Sidney Lumet, the award-winning movie and television director, but divorced him seven years later and married author Wyatt Cooper in 1963, that union lasting until his death in 1978.
The elder of her two sons by Wyatt Cooper committed suicide in 1988.
Vanderbilt was also romantically linked with actor Marlon Brando, singer Frank Sinatra and writer Ronald Dahl.