Gloria Vanderbilt, heiress, jeans queen, dies at 95

NEW YORK (AP) — 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, 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 confirmed 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.

Vanderbilt was a talented painter and collagist who also acted on the stage ("The Time of Your Life" on Broadway) 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.

45 PHOTOS
Gloria Vanderbilt over the years
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Gloria Vanderbilt over the years
Gloria Vanderbilt. January 14, 1955. (Photo by Louis Liotta/New York Post Archives /(c) NYP Holdings, Inc. via Getty Images)
Gloria Vanderbilt took the witness stand for the third day today to testify in the custody proceeding involving her two children, Chris, 7, and Stan, 8, and her husband, conductor Leopold Stokowski. June 08, 1959. (Photo by Louis Liotta/New York Post Archives /(c) NYP Holdings, Inc. via Getty Images)
Gloria Vanderbilt. June 05, 1959. (Photo by Arty Pomerantz/New York Post Archives /(c) NYP Holdings, Inc. via Getty Images)
(Original Caption) Star Gathering. Eva Gabor (left) and her new husband Richard Brown share the dance floor with Director Sidney Lumet and his wife Gloria Vanderbilt. Fisher's opening-nite performance just before the party was generally acclaimed by both critics and audience, confounding prophets who said the singer's career would be wrecked after his marital difficulties with Debbie Reynolds and subsequent marriage to Miss Taylor.
(Original Caption) Gloria Vanderbilt and her husband Sidney Lumet, are seen here with Cleveland Amory. (Photo by VCG Wilson/Bettmann Archive)
Gloria Vanderbilt enters Supreme Court with her lawyers, Arnold R. Krakower, left, and George Haipern, to hear testimony of Leopold Stokowski in their custody battle over their sons. January 14, 1958. (Photo by Louis Liotta/New York Post Archives /(c) NYP Holdings, Inc. via Getty Images)
(Original Caption) Los Angeles. Actress Gloria Vanderbilt arives here 11/12 to make her motion picture depbut opposite Frank Sinatra in the actor's first production venture, "Johnny Concho." Miss Vanderbilt said that she was sorry that "Frank" was not at the airport to meet her.
Gloria Vanderbilt at the World Premiere of "East of Eden." (Photo by George Rinhart/Corbis via Getty Images)
(Original Caption) Gloria Vanderbilt is congratulated by actor Franchot Tone after making her New York legitimate stage debut at the City Center. Gloria had a bit part in a production of "the Time of Your Life," which opened a two-week run at the theater. Tone starred in the revival.
(Original Caption) Gloria Vanderbilt Stokowska as she began rehearsals today for her role in William Saroyan's The Time of Your Life, which opens at the 55th Street Playhouse on January 19th. Miss Vanderbilt recently announced her separation from maestro Leopold Stokowski and said she plans to divorce him. They have been married nine years and have two children.
Portrait of designer Gloria Vanderbilt, late 1960s or early 1970s. (Photo by Jack Robinson/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)
American heiress and designer Gloria Vanderbilt and her second husband American film director Sidney Lumet stand together at the foot of a marble staircase, early 1960s. (Photo by Getty Images)
Producer Sidney Lumet and his wife, heiress Gloria Vanderbilt smile as the stand together at the Astor Theatre for the opening of "The Fugitive Kind". The film, which stars Marlon Brando, Anna Magnani, and Joanne Woodward is an adaptation of the Tennessee Williams play, Orpheus Descending. New York City, New York.
Portrait of American heiress and socialite (as well as fashion designer and artist) Gloria Vanderbilt, New York, New York, late 1960s. (Photo by Jack Robinson/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)
Socialite Gloria Vanderbilt with a new hairdo made famous by the 1961 French film 'Last Year at Marienbad', May 1963. (Photo by Paul Schutzer/The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images)
American heriess and designer Gloria Vanderbilt poses with her fourth husband, actor and editor Wyatt Cooper (1927 - 1978), at the Nine O'clocks Winter Ball in honor of Colonel Serge Obolensky's 80th birthday, Plaza Hotel, New York City, December 1, 1970. The theme of the ball was the Winter Palace at St. Petersburg during the Romanov Dynasty. (Photo by Santi Visalli Inc./Getty Images)
UNITED STATES - FEBRUARY 01: Gloria Vanderbilt, socialite, seated on the patchwork floor in her apartment, in front of the fireplace, wearing Japonoiserie-styled patchwork, silk caftan with ruffled collar, hair pulled back into her usual classic chignon (Photo by Horst P. Horst/Conde Nast via Getty Images)
From left, twin sisters, Lady Furness (Thelma Morgan) (1904 - 1970) and Gloria Morgan Vanderbilt (1904 - 1965) sit together in front of a fireplace. (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)
Gloria Vanderbilt culred up on a couch with flowered printed pillows she designed, the apartment is shared with husband Wyatt Cooper and two young sons. (Photo by Horst P. Horst/Conde Nast via Getty Images)
Close up of designer and socialite, Gloria Vanderbilt stands in her Manhattan studio. (Photo by Horst P. Horst/Condé Nast via Getty Images)
Gloria Vanderbilt in her studio with pantings on the walls and floor. (Photo by Horst P. Horst/Conde Nast via Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY- CIRCA 1980s: Bobby Short and Gloria Vanderbilt circa the 1980s in New York City. (Photo by Bettina Cirone/IMAGES/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - CIRCA 1980: Gloria Vanderbilt circa 1980 in New York City. (Photo by PL Gould/IMAGES/Getty Images)
Designers Gloria Vanderbilt and Geoffrey Beene (in shadows) between a pair of folding partition walls in Geoffrey Beene's New York showroom. Gloria Vanderbilt wears a two-piece dress with a bouffant skirt, printed with pink flowers on cotton, by Geoffrey Beene. Hair by Suga. Makeup by Sandra Linter. (Photo by Deborah Turbeville/Conde Nast via Getty Images)
Bill Blass and Gloria Vanderbilt during 1985 Annual Council of Fashion Designers of America Awards Dinner at Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City, New York, United States. (Photo by Ron Galella/Ron Galella Collection via Getty Images)
UNITED STATES - APRIL 01: Fashion designer Gloria Vanderbilt (great- great-granddaughter of Commodore Cornelius Vanderbilt) wearing a pleated dress most likely by Fortuny and posing in front of a large portrait of her mother in her penthouse in Gracie Square in New York City (Photo by Horst P. Horst/Conde Nast via Getty Images)
UNITED STATES - MARCH 19: Gloria Vanderbilt (Photo by The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images)
UNITED STATES - MARCH 19: Gloria Vanderbilt (Photo by The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images)
UNITED STATES - MARCH 19: Gloria Vanderbilt (Photo by The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images)
Gloria Vanderbilt during Fall Fashion Week Fashion by Bill Blass - April 6, 1995 at Bryant Park in New York City, New York, United States. (Photo by Ron Galella/Ron Galella Collection via Getty Images)
(Original Caption) Portrait of Gloria Vanderbilt. (Photo by Eric Robert/Sygma/Sygma via Getty Images)
(Original Caption) Portrait of Gloria Vanderbilt. (Photo by Eric Robert/Sygma/Sygma via Getty Images)
Gloria Vanderbilt and sons Carter Cooper and Anderson Cooper attend the premiere of Manhattan on April 18, 1979 at the Ziegfeld Theater in New York City. (Photo by Ron Galella/Ron Galella Collection via Getty Images)
UNITED STATES - CIRCA 1998: Gloria Vanderbilt signs her book with Anne Slater, Madison Ave. bookstore, New York - 1998 (Photo by Rose Hartman/Getty Images)
NEW YORK - 2000: Artist Gordon Parks & designer Gloria Vanderbilt at a gala at the Plaza Hotel in 2000 in New York City, New York. (Photo by Rose Hartman/Getty Images)
NEW YORK CITY, NY - APRIL 4: Gloria Vanderbilt and Andrew Slabey attend 4th Annual Benefit for The Academy of American Poets at Alice Tully Hall Lincoln Center on April 4, 2006 in New York City. (Photo by Matt Carasella/Patrick McMullan via Getty Imagess)
NEW YORK CITY, NY - FEBRUARY 5: Gloria Vanderbilt attends Celebration & Book Signing for DRAWING FASHION: THE ART OF KENNETH PAUL BLOCK by Susan Mulcahy at Bergdorf Goodman on February 5, 2008 in New York City. (Photo by Patrick McMullan/Patrick McMullan via Getty Imagess)
NEW YORK CITY, NY - FEBRUARY 5: Anne Slater and Gloria Vanderbilt attend Celebration & Book Signing for DRAWING FASHION: THE ART OF KENNETH PAUL BLOCK by Susan Mulcahy at Bergdorf Goodman on February 5, 2008 in New York City. (Photo by NEIL RASMUS/Patrick McMullan via Getty Imagess)
American photographer and film director Gordon Parks (1912 - 2006) and American artist and author Gloria Vanderbilt attending the '8th Annual Living Landmarks Gala' at the Plaza Hotel, New York City, USA, circa 2001. (Photo by Rose Hartman/Archive Photos/Getty Images)
NEW YORK - NOVEMBER 04: Ralph Lauren and Gloria Vanderbilt attend the launch party for "The World Of Gloria Vanderbilt" at the Ralph Lauren Women's Boutique on November 4, 2010 in New York City (Photo by Dimitrios Kambouris/Getty Images)
NEW YORK - NOVEMBER 04: Gloria Vanderbilt and Anderson Cooper attend the launch party for "The World Of Gloria Vanderbilt" at the Ralph Lauren Women's Boutique on November 4, 2010 in New York City (Photo by Dimitrios Kambouris/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - JULY 15: Diane Furstenberg and Gloria Vanderbilt attend DIANE VON FURSTENBERG celebrates the publication of GLORIA VANDERBILT's "Obession: An Erotic Tale" at 874 Washington St on July 15, 2009 in New York. (Photo by AMBER DE VOS/Patrick McMullan via Getty Imagess)
NEW YORK, NY - SEPTEMBER 12: Painter Gloria Vanderbilt attends "The World of Gloria Vanderbilt: Collages, Dream Boxes, and Recent Paintings" Preview Party Gala Benefit to benefit the Huntsville Museum of Art on September 12, 2012 in New York, United States. (Photo by Taylor Hill/FilmMagic)
NEW YORK, NY - JULY 14: Gloria Vanderbilt speaks during SiriusXM's 'Town Hall' With Gloria Vanderbilt at SiriusXM Studios on July 14, 2016 in New York City. Town Hall To Air On Radio Andy. (Photo by Robin Marchant/Getty Images for SiriusXM)
NEW YORK, NY - JULY 14: Gloria Vanderbilt attends SiriusXM's 'Town Hall' With Gloria Vanderbilt at SiriusXM Studios on July 14, 2016 in New York City. Town Hall To Air On Radio Andy. (Photo by Robin Marchant/Getty Images for SiriusXM)
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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."

Noting her father's death when she was a toddler, she said: "If you don't have a father, you don't miss it, because you don't know what it is. It was really only when I married Wyatt Cooper that I understood what it was like to have a father, because he was just an extraordinary father."

In 2016, Vanderbilt and Anderson Cooper appeared together in the HBO documentary "Nothing Left Unsaid."

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. He left around $100 million when he died in 1877 at age 82.

Her father, Reginald Claypoole Vanderbilt, was 43, a gambler and boozer dying of liver disease when he married Gloria Morgan, 19, in 1923. Their daughter was 1 when Vanderbilt died in 1925, having gone through $25 million in 14 years.

Beneficiary of a $5 million trust fund, Vanderbilt became the "poor little rich girl" in 1934 at age 10 as the object of a custody fight between her globe-trotting mother and matriarchal aunt.

The aunt, Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney, 59, who controlled $78 million and founded the Whitney Museum of American Art, won custody of her niece.

A shocked judge had closed the trial when a maid accused the child's mother of a lesbian affair with a member of the British royal family. The fight was chronicled in the best-selling 1980 book "Little Gloria ... Happy at Last," made into a TV miniseries in 1982 with Angela Lansbury playing Whitney.

After spending the next seven years on her aunt's Long Island estate, Vanderbilt went to Hollywood. She dated celebrities and declared she would marry Hughes. Instead, the 17-year-old wed Hughes' press agent, Pasquale di Cicco, prompting her aunt to cut Gloria out of her will.

Vanderbilt came into her own $5 million trust fund in 1945 at age 21. She also divorced Di Cicco, whom she said had beaten her often, and the next day married the 63-year-old Stokowski. The marriage to the conductor lasted 10 years and produced two sons, Stanislaus and Christopher.

After her marriage broke up, Vanderbilt found herself embroiled in another custody case, this time as the mother. During the closed hearings, Stokowski accused Vanderbilt of spending too much time at parties and too little with the boys. She accused him of tyrannizing his sons and said he really was 85, and not 72 as he claimed.

Justice Edgar Nathan Jr. gave Vanderbilt full-time custody. But he commented that the court had wasted a month on "the resolution of problems which mature, intelligent parents should be able to work out for themselves."

Vanderbilt married Lumet in 1956 and lived with him and her children in a 10-room duplex penthouse on Gracie Square. She divorced Lumet and married Cooper in 1963.

17 PHOTOS
Gloria Vanderbilt and son Anderson Cooper together
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Gloria Vanderbilt and son Anderson Cooper together
LONG ISLAND, NY - MARCH 30: Socialite and heiress Gloria Vanderbilt poses for a portrait session with her sons Anderson Cooper (left) and Carter Vanderbilt Cooper on a bed in their home on March 30, 1972 in Southampton, Long Island, New York. (Photo by Jack Robinson/Hulton Archive/Getty Images)
Gloria Vanderbilt and her two sons, Anderson and Carter, sit on her bed. (Photo by Horst P. Horst/Condé Nast via Getty Images)
Swiss-born socialite Gloria Vanderbilt runs down the street with her two sons Anderson Cooper and Carter Vanderbilt Cooper (1965 - 1988), New York, New York. (Photo by Susan Wood/Getty Images)
NEW YORK CITY - DECEMBER 31: (L-R) Gloria Vanderbilt, Carter Cooper and Anderson Cooper attend Woody Allen New Year Eve's Party on December 31, 1979 at Harkness House in New York City. (Photo by Ron Galella, Ltd./Ron Galella Collection via Getty Images)
UNSPECIFIED - CIRCA 1988: Gloria Vanderbilt, Carter Cooper and Anderson Cooper circa 1988. (Photo by PL Gould/IMAGES/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - JUNE 18: Anderson Cooper and Gloria Vanderbilt attend THE GORDON PARKS AWARDS DINNER & AUCTION: A Celebration of his Life and the Arts at Gotham Hall on June 18, 2007. (Photo by MATT CARASELLA/Patrick McMullan via Getty Imagess)
Anderson Cooper and Gloria Vanderbilt at the Tiffany Store in New York, New York (Photo by Rabbani and Solimene Photography/WireImage)
NEW YORK CITY, NY - APRIL 16: (L-R) Anderson Cooper, Gloria Vanderbilt and Matthew Patrick Smyth attend KIPS BAY BOYS & GIRLS CLUB 2009 Preview Gala & Cocktails at ASPREY at Kips Bay Decorator Show House & Asprey on April 16, 2009 in New York City. (Photo by BILLY FARRELL /Patrick McMullan via Getty Imagess)
WATCH WHAT HAPPENS LIVE -- Pictured (l-r): Gloria Vanderbilt and Anderson Cooper -- (Photo by: Charles Sykes/Bravo/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)
WATCH WHAT HAPPENS LIVE -- Pictured (l-r): Gloria Vanderbilt and Anderson Cooper -- (Photo by: Charles Sykes/Bravo/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)
WATCH WHAT HAPPENS LIVE -- Pictured (l-r): Andy Cohen, Gloria Vanderbilt and Anderson Cooper -- (Photo by: Charles Sykes/Bravo/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)
WATCH WHAT HAPPENS LIVE -- Pictured (l-r): Anderson Cooper and Gloria Vanderbilt -- (Photo by: Charles Sykes/Bravo/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NEW YORK - APRIL 04: Journalist Anderson Cooper and artist Gloria Vanderbilt attend the "Nothing Left Unsaid" New York premiere at Time Warner Center on April 4, 2016 in New York City. (Photo by Jim Spellman/WireImage)
NEW YORK, NEW YORK - APRIL 04: Chairman and CEO of HBO Richard Plepler, artist Gloria Vanderbilt, president of HBO documentary films Sheila Nevins, journalist Anderson Cooper and director Liz Garbus attend the "Nothing Left Unsaid" New York premiere at Time Warner Center on April 4, 2016 in New York City. (Photo by Jim Spellman/WireImage)
NEW YORK, NY - APRIL 14: Anderson Cooper and Gloria Vanderbilt attend A Conversation with Anderson Cooper and Gloria Vanderbilt at 92nd Street Y on April 14, 2016 in New York City. (Photo by Laura Cavanaugh/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NEW YORK - APRIL 07: Gloria Vanderbilt and Anderson Cooper in conversation at Barnes & Noble Union Square on April 7, 2016 in New York City. (Photo by John Lamparski/Getty Images)
NEW YORK, NY - APRIL 14: Anderson Cooper and Gloria Vanderbilt attend A Conversation With Anderson Cooper And Gloria Vanderbilt at 92Y on April 14, 2016 in New York City. (Photo by Jenny Anderson/WireImage)
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Their elder son, Carter, a Princeton graduate and editor at American Heritage, killed himself in 1988 at age 23, leaping from his mother's 14th floor apartment as she tried to stop him. Police said he had been treated for depression and friends said he was despondent over a break-up with a girlfriend.

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."

By the late 1980s, Vanderbilt sold the name and licenses for the brand name "Gloria Vanderbilt" to Gitano, who transferred it to a group of private investors in 1993. More recently, her stretch jeans have been licensed through Jones Apparel Group Inc., which acquired Gloria Vanderbilt Apparel Corp. in 2002 for $138 million.

Vanderbilt became the target of a swindle in the late 1970s and early '80s when she made her psychiatrist and a lawyer associates in her business affairs. A court held that the two had looted millions from Vanderbilt's bank accounts.

Vanderbilt also made headlines in 1980 when she filed, but later dropped, a discrimination complaint against the posh River House apartments, which had rejected her bid to buy a $1.1 million duplex. She claimed the board was worried that black singer Bobby Short, who appeared with her on TV commercials, might marry her.

In 2009, the 85-year-old Vanderbilt penned a new novel, "Obsession: An Erotic Tale," a graphic tale about an architect's widow who discovers a cache of her husband's letters that reveal his secret sex life.

In an interview with The New York Times, she said she wasn't embarrassed about the explicitness of her new book, saying: "I don't think age has anything to do with what you write about. The only thing that would embarrass me is bad writing, and the only thing that really concerned me was my children. You know how children can be about their parents. But mine are very intelligent and supportive."

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