NEW YORK -- Gloria Vanderbilt, the intrepid heiress, artist and romantic who began her extraordinary life as the "poor little rich girl" of the Great Depression, survived family tragedy and multiple marriages, and reigned during the 1970s and '80s as a designer jeans pioneer, died Monday at the age of 95.
Vanderbilt was the great-great-granddaughter of financier Cornelius Vanderbilt and the mother of CNN newsman Anderson Cooper, who announced her death via a first-person obituary that aired on the network Monday morning.
Cooper said Vanderbilt died at home with friends and family at her side. She had been suffering from advanced stomach cancer, he noted.
"Gloria Vanderbilt was an extraordinary woman, who loved life, and lived it on her own terms," Cooper said in a statement. "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."
Her life was chronicled in sensational headlines from her childhood through four marriages and three divorces. She married for the first time at 17, causing her aunt to disinherit her. Her husbands included Leopold Stokowski, the celebrated conductor, and Sidney Lumet, the award-winning movie and television director. In 1988, she witnessed the suicide of one of her four sons.
Tributes online came from celebrities and fans of her clothes alike. Alyssa Milano called her "an incredible woman," Dana Delany said she treasures one of Vanderbilt's paintings and model Carol Alt hailed her as a "fashion icon and innovator."
Vanderbilt, a talented painter and collagist, also acted on the stage (The Time of Your Life on Broadway in 1955) and television (Playhouse 90, Studio One, Kraft Theater, U.S. Steel Hour). She was a fabric designer who became an early enthusiast for designer denim. The dark-haired, tall and ultra-thin Vanderbilt partnered with Mohan Murjani, who introduced a $1 million advertising campaign in 1978 that turned the Gloria Vanderbilt brand with its signature white swan label into a sensation.
At its peak in 1980, it was generating over $200 million in sales. And decades later, famous-name designer jeans -- dressed up or down -- remain a woman's wardrobe staple.
After her success in designer jeans, Vanderbilt branched out into other areas, including shoes, scarves, table and bed linens, and china, through her company, Gloria Concepts. In 1988 Vanderbilt joined the designer fragrance market with her signature "Glorious."
Vanderbilt wrote several books, including the 2004 chronicle of her love life: It Seemed Important at the Time: A Romance Memoir, which drops such names as Errol Flynn, whom she dated as a teenager; Frank Sinatra, for whom she left Stokowski; Marlon Brando; and Howard Hughes.
She claimed her only happy marriage was to author Wyatt Cooper, which ended with his death in 1978 at age 50. Son Anderson Cooper called her memoir "a terrific book; it's like an older Sex and the City."
"I've had many, many loves," Vanderbilt told The Associated Press in a 2004 interview. "I always feel that something wonderful is going to happen. And it always does."
Gloria Laura Madeleine Sophie Vanderbilt was born in 1924, a century after her great-great-grandfather started the family fortune, first in steamships, later in railroads.
She was America's most famous non-Hollywood child in the Roaring Twenties and Depression years. In infancy, she inherited a $2.5 million trust fund, equivalent to $37 million today, which she could not touch until she was 21, though her mother gained access to nearly $50,000 a year.
Newspapers called her a poor little rich girl. Her alcoholic father died when she was a baby. Her mother left her with a nanny and partied across Europe on her money for years. When Gloria was 10, her mother and a wealthy aunt sued each other in the era's most sensational child-custody case. The aunt exposed her mother's escapades and won custody of a child left traumatized.
She married and divorced three men -- a mobster who beat her; conductor Stokowski, who was 42 years older and preoccupied with his own career; and film director Lumet.
She had two sons with Stokowski and two with her fourth husband, Cooper, who died at 50 in 1978. One son was Anderson; another, Carter Cooper, fell to his death from her Manhattan penthouse at 23. In her later years the photographer Gordon Parks, who died in 2006, was her companion.
Information for this story was contributed by Ula Ilnytzky of the Associated Press, and by Robert D. McFadden of the New York Times
A Section on 06/18/2019
Print Headline: Heiress, fashion icon Vanderbilt dies at 95