A couple of days after his mother Gloria Vanderbilt died, journalist Anderson Cooper posted a series of her photos on Instagram with this caption: “In the end, after all else is stripped away, there is only love. My mom believed in love more than anyone. It was her guide, her solace, it’s what drove her, and in her final moments, it is what surrounded her. ‘I love you, you know that,’ she would say to me, and I did, I knew it from the moment I was born, and I will know it ’til the moment I die. It was her greatest gift to me.”
Vanderbilt, heiress, socialite, fashion designer, author, actress, artist and philanthropist, died in her Manhattan home on June 17. She was 95.
Cooper paid tribute to her in a eulogy that was aired on his CNN show “Anderson Cooper 360°.”
He said: “Earlier this month, we had to take her to the hospital. That’s where she learned that 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 that way to get out of this world, because that’s where everything is.’”
‘Poor little rich girl’
Gloria Vanderbilt was born in 1924 in New York to Gloria Morgan and Reginald Vanderbilt, who was the heir to the Vanderbilt railroad fortune.
Her young life was tabloid fodder. Her father died when she was a baby, her mother neglected her, and pilfered the trust fund that was left to her.
Her aunt, whom she barely knew, fought for her in a child custody battle that was dubbed “The Trial of the Century.”
“Poor little rich girl,” newspapers called Vanderbilt.
“Gloria Vanderbilt lived her entire life in the public eye,” Cooper said. “As a teenager, she tried to avoid the spotlight, but reporters and cameramen would follow her everywhere. She was determined to make something of her life, determined to make a name for herself and find the love and family that she so desperately craved.”
She did that, and more. Vanderbilt had multiple marriages and worked as a writer, an actress, a painter and a fashion designer.
She built a $100-million fashion empire that began with designer jeans, and expanded into fragrance, makeup and home decor.
“But that was her public face, the one she learned to hide behind as a child. Her private self, her real self, was more fascinating and more lovely than anything she showed the public,” Cooper said. “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.”
He called his mother “the strongest person he’s ever met,” adding, “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, its pains as well. She trusted too freely, too completely, and suffered tremendous losses… And she was always in love. In love with men, or with friends, or books and art, in love with her children, and her grandchildren, and then her great-grandchildren. Love is what she believed in, more than anything.”
Cooper posted a video of his mother on a hospital bed, oxygen tube in her nose. It was shortly after she received the news that she had terminal cancer. She had cracked a joke—mother and son were giggling.
“It was the first time I learned (that) my silly giggle came from her,” Cooper said. “It makes me giggle every time I watch it.”
In the CNN broadcast, Cooper said: “Gloria Vanderbilt died as she lived: on her own terms. I know that 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 by family, and by friends.”
On Twitter, he expressed gratitude for the outpouring of love he has received the past days: “Thank you for all the lovely messages about my mom. I was lucky to have her for so long. She was the coolest lady I ever met, funny, loving, so talented, and modern. She joins my father, and brother, and I will carry their memories with me forever.”
A fan replied: “She is, as are you, an American treasure.”