Gloria Vanderbilt: Artist, Heiress And Designer Dies At 95 Vanderbilt, the mother of CNN journalist Anderson Cooper, was known for vivid paintings and collages, and for designing glamorous jeans.
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Artist, Heiress And Designer Gloria Vanderbilt Dies At 95

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Artist, Heiress And Designer Gloria Vanderbilt Dies At 95

Artist, Heiress And Designer Gloria Vanderbilt Dies At 95

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ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Gloria Vanderbilt died today at the age of 95. She was many things - an heiress, an artist, a philanthropist. But for many Americans, Vanderbilt may be best known for her blue jeans. Jacki Lyden has this remembrance.

JACKI LYDEN, BYLINE: Gloria Vanderbilt had full lips, eyes that turned up at the corners and a patrician bearing. She was, in fact, descended from shipping and railroad tycoon Cornelius Vanderbilt, one of the richest men in American history. Her mother, also named Gloria, had her in 1924. Her father, Reginald Vanderbilt, died shortly thereafter. Gloria was raised by a beloved nurse because her mother was away in Europe, living a high-society life. By 1934, the little rich girl of the tabloids was at the center of a sensational custody battle instigated by her grandmother and aunt. She talked about it with radio host Lloyd Moss.

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GLORIA VANDERBILT: As a child, I did not feel that I was treated as a person.

LLOYD MOSS: Yes.

VANDERBILT: I felt really that I was treated as an object. And nobody ever really kind of thought, what is she really like? What is she like? What are her talents? What does she want really?

LYDEN: Gloria's aunt, Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney, who founded the Whitney Museum of Art, won the battle against Gloria's mother. Whitney then fired Gloria's nurse. As Gloria Vanderbilt matured, she developed her own creative drive and earned her own income.

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VANDERBILT: If you have to really work for it, when you do achieve it, even though it really takes longer, it means more.

LYDEN: Having a famous name helped, and she did make it. She was known for vivid paintings and collages, and she was asked to design everything from China to linen. By the 1970s, she was designing jeans - glamorous, skinny jeans. And on every pair of those jeans, her signature was embroidered on the back right pocket, a tiny gold swan embroidered on the front pocket. She even modeled the jeans herself in TV ads.

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VANDERBILT: They're my new stretch denim jeans, and they are a pleasure to wear.

LYDEN: Gloria Vanderbilt attracted talented and interesting men. She married four times. Her husbands included the conductor Leopold Stokowski, with whom she had two sons, and director Sidney Lumet. In later life, her companion was the trailblazing photographer and musician Gordon Parks.

She had her share of tragedy. Her fourth husband, the writer Wyatt Cooper, died. They had two sons. In 1988, her older son, Carter Cooper, committed suicide by jumping from an apartment floor balcony as he was talking to her.

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VANDERBILT: And I said, Carter, come back. And for a minute, I thought he was going to come back, but he didn't. He let go. And there was a moment when I thought I was going to jump over after him. But then I thought of you.

LYDEN: That would be her younger son, CNN journalist Anderson Cooper. They discussed the suicide in a television segment about loss. Vanderbilt opened up about her life in memoirs. She also wrote art books and novels. But she said that her children were her greatest achievement. She was a woman who seemed eager to share her life lessons.

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VANDERBILT: I believe that we have to cherish the pain that we experience as we cherish the joy because without one, there wouldn't be the other, and it's what makes us alive. And I think that's very, very important.

LYDEN: Vanderbilt told friends and interviewers that she believed in being positive. Over the fireplace in her studio, she'd painted the message, be kind to everyone you meet, for everyone is fighting a great battle. For NPR News, I'm Jacki Lyden.

[POST-BROADCAST CORRECTION: A previous audio version of this story that was broadcast on Morning Edition incorrectly stated that Gloria Vanderbilt was born in 1921. She was born in 1924.]

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