A lot of us know Gloria Vanderbilt, who died at age 95 today, from that time when we used to wear her name on our butts. It’s hard to forget the excitement of buying your very own pair of Gloria Vanderbilt jeans back in the late ’70s. It was such a rite of passage—even if you had to find a pair second-hand like I did because I couldn’t afford the steep price tag of buying new. Does anyone remember the price of jeans back then?
I’m not sure how a mother can go on after such a tragedy.
Of course Vanderbilt was known for many other reasons. She was the great-great granddaugther of one of the titans of industry who built the country—Commodore Cornelius Vanderbilt. In the 1930s, she was at the center of a custody battle between her mother and her aunt that was a tabloid sensation which earned her the sobriquet, “Poor Little Rich Girl.” (The aunt won.) She’s written memoirs, been a style icon, had affairs with major stars (Frank Sinatra and Marlon Brando among them) and was the muse to Truman Capote when he created Holly Golightly for his novel Breakfast at Tiffany’s.
Now, she’s also known as the mother of CNN anchor, Anderson Cooper.
Not Easy Street
As rich as she was—first from inherited wealth and later from her fashion empire—her life was not easy and was filled with tragedy in loss. She has written about her deep and life-shaping love for her mother, who left young Vanderbilt with a nurse so that she could party across Europe. Three of her marriages ended in divorce. Her fourth marriage to Anderson Cooper’s father, Wyatt, was her happiest one, but ended in his death.
The most searing loss was her son, Carter, who committed suicide in 1988. The suicide was made even more tragic by the fact that Vanderbilt witnessed it. He released his hold from a wall on the terrace of her penthouse in Manhattan as she screamed for him to not let go. I’m not sure how a mother can go on after such a tragedy.
That she survived and mostly thrived through such an array of heartbreaks and upheavals is a testament to her strength. In so many photos, she looked delicate and small, but she was anything but. I, for one, am proud that I got the chance to wear her jeans. They didn’t improve my life—maybe it was because my butt never looked like they were supposed to in them—but her example of resilience through the years certainly does.