Anderson Cooper Staged A Heartfelt Tribute To His Late Mother Gloria Vanderbilt

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In June 2019 Gloria Vanderbilt died at the age of 95, having lived a truly remarkable life. She had come into the world as an heiress of the Vanderbilt railroad fortune, but left it as an artist, writer, actress and fashionista. And she had also parented the popular CNN news broadcaster Anderson Cooper.

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Cooper and his mother were very close, and the pair had demonstrated their bond to the world before. Indeed, in 2016 they starred in a HBO documentary called Nothing Left Unsaid: Gloria Vanderbilt & Anderson Cooper. Footage from this production formed part of the tribute Cooper gave to her after she passed away.

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Cooper was apparently devastated by his mother’s death. In the tributes he paid to her on television, however, he focused primarily on her life. He told the world all about the things they had faced together, both triumphs and tragedies. His eulogy painted a fascinating picture of Vanderbilt as a person, and the relationship between mother and son.

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Gloria Vanderbilt was born into fame and fortune, the likes of which are mind-blowing. She technically was a multi-millionaire at the age of 18 months, when her father died and the Vanderbilt money passed to her and her half-sister. However, her early years were marked by serious family strife.

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When Vanderbilt was nine years of age, she became the subject of a very high-profile custody battle. The papers dubbed it “the trial of the century.” Vanderbilt’s paternal aunt Gertrude accused the little girl’s mother of being an unfit parent, seeking guardianship of her. The case was extremely scandalous for the people of the 1930s.

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The custody battle involved an accusation of lesbianism directed at Vanderbilt’s mother. A maid reportedly testified, “Mrs. Vanderbilt was in bed reading a paper, and there was Lady Milford Haven beside the bed with her arm around Mrs. Vanderbilt’s neck and kissing her just like a lover.” Lady Milford Haven was the wife of a relative to the British royal family.

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After the accusation was made, the courtroom erupted into chaos. Before too long, the young Vanderbilt’s aunt was granted full custody. This was seemingly helped by the fact that the little girl had told the judge that she was terrified of her mother. And so the publicly shamed elder Vanderbilt could only see her daughter on weekends.

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In her 2016 book The Rainbow Comes And Goes, which she co-wrote with her son Cooper, Vanderbilt looked back on the court case and what had happened to her a child. Apparently, she claimed, her aunt’s attorney Frank Crocker had fed her untrue stories to recite. And so the young Vanderbilt had done what she was instructed to.

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The case affected Vanderbilt in other ways. For a long time during her childhood, she assumed that homosexual relationships were wrong. After all, everyone involved in the custody battle had treated them as such. This provided an obstacle when Cooper came out to his mother at the age of 21 – but in fact, she was apparently accepting.

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As a teenager and adult, Vanderbilt had a series of bizarre marriages. In fact, she wed her first husband at the age of 17. This was agent Pat DiCicco, whose first wife – the famed actress Thelma Todd – had met a suspicious end. “You got married to a guy who there were rumors around he had killed his former wife?” Cooper asked his mother in Nothing Left Unsaid. “Sweetheart, I was only 17,” Vanderbilt answered.

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Vanderbilt divorced her first husband in the end, and shortly afterwards fell into the arms of her second. At the age of 20, she married 63-year-old Leopold Stokowski – having known him for only three weeks. She explained her reasoning in Nothing Left Unsaid. “I wanted a father,” she said. “So I married Leopold.”

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Vanderbilt had two children with Stokowski, Stan and Christopher. The marriage lasted for ten years, and after that Vanderbilt had two more husbands. These were director Sidney Lumet and writer Wyatt Emory Cooper. This latter man was the father of Anderson Cooper and his brother Carter. He passed away in 1978, while he was still married to Vanderbilt.

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Wyatt Cooper died while having open-heart surgery. His and Vanderbilt’s son Anderson Cooper was only ten years old at the time. Needless to say, his father’s death was very upsetting. In 2016 he wrote an article for the New York Times where he discussed what he’d say to him if he could. “Is he proud of me? Does he approve of the man that I’ve become?” he pondered.

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Cooper losing his father was only one of two tragedies which hit the family over a ten year period. In 1988 his brother Carter jumped out of the family’s apartment window, killing himself. Vanderbilt was with him at the time and witnessed his death. Needless to say, it was devastating.

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In 2016 both Cooper and Vanderbilt talked to People about the loss of Carter. “I think it obviously brought us together in ways,” Cooper said. “And I think you can’t help but come closer going through something like that, and, you know, it left us with each other. And I think it’s still so present in our lives, that sense of loss.”

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Vanderbilt’s other two sons, Stan and Chris Stokowski, occupied strange places in her life. They both stayed away from the public eye. Stan was sometimes seen with his mother, but not often, and Chris was reportedly estranged from the whole family. However, he apparently reconciled with her before she died.

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Anderson Cooper is by far the most famous of Vanderbilt’s sons. The CNN anchor has said in the past that all the grief he suffered in life made him want to pursue journalism. He wanted most of all to explore the nature of survival. And he managed to turn it into a hugely successful career in the end.

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Throughout the ’00s, Cooper covered a number of particularly notable stories. He reported on Hurricane Katrina, the passing of Pope John Paul II, the famine in Niger, the marriage of Prince Charles and Camilla Parker Bowles, and plenty of others. And by 2007 he had signed a long-term contract with CNN.

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Vanderbilt too had a very successful career throughout her life. She could have lived off the family fortune, but she instead became a fashion designer and artist. Throughout the late 1970s her designer denim jeans were incredibly popular. Cooper would often see his mother’s name stitched onto people’s back pockets.

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Vanderbilt was also an artist, even studying the subject at the Art Students League of New York. And in 1968 her artworks were licensed to Hallmark. Throughout her life she held lots of exhibitions and authored two books about art. She was still supposedly working in her art studio right before she was diagnosed with cancer.

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According to reports, Vanderbilt had only nine days between being informed that she had stomach cancer and actually passing away. She is said to have spent those nine days in the company of some of those closest to her. She then reportedly died peacefully in the early hours of June 17, 2019.

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Upon his mother’s death, Cooper paid tribute to her on CNN. “Her private self, her real self, that was more fascinating and more lovely than anything she showed the public,” he said. “I always thought of her as a visitor from another world, a traveller stranded here who’d come from a distant star that burned out long ago.”

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Cooper spoke more about his relationship with his mother. “I always felt it was my job to try and protect her. She was the strongest person I ever met, but she wasn’t tough. She never developed a thick skin to protect herself from hurt,” he said. “She wanted to feel it all, she wanted to feel life’s pleasures, and its pains as well.”

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“She trusted too freely, too completely, suffered tremendous losses, but she always pressed on,” Cooper went on. “Always worked hard, always believed the best was yet to come… And she was always in love. In love with men, or with friends, or with books and art, with her children and then her great-grandchildren.”

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Cooper then recalled the time that his mother was informed of her diagnosis. “Earlier this month we had to take her to the hospital,” he said. “That’s where she learned she had very advanced cancer in her stomach and that it had spread.” He went on to explain that she was initially quiet upon hearing the news. But she eventually said, “Well, it’s like that old song, ‘Show Me The Way To Get Out Of This World.’”

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Cooper had filmed his mother while she lay in her hospital bed. “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,” he said. Then he talked of his mother’s final days. “Gloria Vanderbilt died as she lived, on her own terms,” he said.

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“I know she hoped for a little more time, a few days or weeks at least,” Cooper continued. “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.” And he added, “She spent a lot of time alone in her head during her life, but when the end came, she was not alone.”

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Cooper shared the details of his final interactions with Vanderbilt. “The last few weeks, every time I kissed her goodbye, I’d say, ‘I love you, Mom,’” he said. “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?”

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The eulogy ended with simple, heartrending words from Cooper. “Gloria Vanderbilt was 95 years old when she died. What an extraordinary life. What an extraordinary mom. And what an incredible woman.” After he wrapped up, one of the anchors who had introduced him commented, “And now you know where Anderson got that laugh.”

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Many other tributes for Vanderbilt poured in after news of her death went around the world, and plenty of sympathy for Cooper was also mixed in. “How heartbreaking to report on your own mother’s passing. RIP, Gloria Vanderbilt. Wishing you and your family peace, @andersoncooper,” wrote Elizabeth Joseph.

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A few days later, Cooper spoke about his mother once more on CNN. This time, he began by thanking people for their words. “Your cards and emails, your texts and DMs on Instagram, and tweets, truly meant a lot,” he said. “My mom would be stunned by all the attention and the kind words which have been written and spoken about her.”

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Cooper went on, “I know this because I got her to join Instagram when she was like, 92 or so. She didn’t think that anyone would actually follow her. ‘Why would anyone be interested?’ she asked. It wasn’t long before she had some 200,000 followers and I gotta tell you, it tickled her beyond belief.”

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Then, Cooper shared some more about Vanderbilt’s early years. “Mary Gordon the author wrote that, ‘A fatherless girl thinks all things possible and nothing safe.’ That’s how my mom felt her entire life,” he said. “Nothing ever felt safe to her, but anything was possible… She never let fear, or pain, or loss prevent her from forging ahead.”

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“My mom found out on 8 June that she had cancer,” Cooper continued. “She lived nine more days. Friends came to see her, she laughed a lot, she saw her family, her nurses cared for her with true love and affection. It was the best end possible to her remarkable life. Being able to spend those nine days and nine nights with her was a great, great blessing.”

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Speaking about the exact moment of his mother’s death, Cooper described how he had been there for her. “She died Monday, shortly after 4am. And though I was holding her hand and her head when she took her last breath, it’s still a little hard for me to believe she’s gone.” But he went on to explain the way he thought of his mother in the wake of her passing.

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One of Vanderbilt’s friends described the late star as “her north star,” Cooper explained. “The person she used as her guide, a light in the darkness,” he elaborated. “I never realized until now how much she was my north star, as well. Right now, things seem a lot less bright and magical without her.” For a moment he paused with emotion.

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The grieving news reporter picked himself up again and went on, “My dad died when I was ten and my brother when I was 21. She was the last of my immediate family, the last person who knew me from the beginning. They’re all gone and it feels very lonely right now. I hope they are at least together.”

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Cooper closed out this second tribute with a video of a song called “Is That All There Is?” performed by Peggy Lee. “She’d like me to play this video of a Peggy Lee song on YouTube… We’d sing along to this chorus,” Cooper said. “I’d hold my mom’s hand while we were singing and move it back and forth as though we were dancing, having a ball.”

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Cooper’s eloquent tributes to his late mother appeared to touch a chord with many people who watched them. “Nothing hurts quite like losing mom. She was a regal lady. Look at the wonderful man and professional journalist she gifted the world. Job well done, Gloria,” wrote one person on YouTube.

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Cooper played the whole Peggy Lee song out just like Vanderbilt would have wanted. And then he finished his tribute to his beloved mother with the following words. “Every time the song ended, she would say ‘Isn’t that marvelous?’” he revealed. “She’d be smiling, and it was. With her, my mom, it was marvelous.”

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