Heiress Gloria Vanderbilt dead at 95

Iconic American socialite, fashion designer and artist Gloria Vanderbilt has died at the age of 95 after a battle with stomach cancer.

The flamboyant socialite was as known for her philanthropy and cultural impact as she was a famed list of lovers that included Marlon Brando, Frank Sinatra, Howard Hughes, and children's author Roald Dahl.

Her son, the US TV news anchor Anderson Cooper, confirmed the news to CNN.

 

Gloria Vanderbilt and her son, CNN anchor, Andreson Cooper. Picture: Instagram
Gloria Vanderbilt and her son, CNN anchor, Andreson Cooper. Picture: Instagram

He revealed Vanderbilt had died on Monday morning (local time) at her New York home.

"She was ready. She was ready to go," Cooper said in an emotional statement to viewers. "[She died] the way she wanted."

Vanderbilt was surrounded by "beauty and friends when it was time".

"What an extraordinary life. What an extraordinary [mother] and what an incredible woman," Cooper added.

 

Gloria Vanderbilt was a New York icon. Picture: Supplied
Gloria Vanderbilt was a New York icon. Picture: Supplied

The TV star said he had been telling her he loved her every time he visited her for the last few weeks.

"She said, 'I love you, too. You know that.' And she was right. I've known it from the moment I was born and I'll know it for the rest of my life," Cooper said.

In a statement afterwards, he said: "Gloria Vanderbilt was an extraordinary woman, who loved life, and lived it on her own terms.

"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."

The heiress had a famously colourful life, coming from the "gilded age" of her wealthy family.

Vanderbilt was an artist, author, fashion designer and renowned New York "It" girl, as well as being an heiress to the Vanderbilt fortune.

She had four children by two husbands and was married four times between 1941 and 1978 until the death of her fourth husband, Wyatt Cooper, who died after undergoing open-heart surgery.

In 1988, a son, Carter Cooper, took his own life in front of her.

'GILDED' LIFE

Vanderbilt was born in February 1924 as the only child of railroad heir Reginald Vanderbilt and his second wife Gloria Morgan.

Her early life was marred by her parents' nasty divorce, which resulted in a high-profile custody battle between her mother and paternal aunt that played out through the media and courts and was the most famous case of its day.

Reginald Vanderbilt died when young Gloria was just one, leaving her in the care of her mother, Gloria Morgan.

He was an alcoholic who died of cirrhosis of the liver and left behind him a mountain of debt which decimated his wealth.

What was left, however, was a $A7 million (worth $A100 million today) trust fund for Vanderbilt and her older half-sister to share.

Gloria Morgan, who was 20 at the time and therefore considered a minor, was not given access to it. Instead, the city issued her $A6000 ($A 87,000 in today's terms) monthly instalments to care for her daughter but she used it on partying.

By 1934, when Gloria was 10, her aunt tried to get custody of her, claiming the elder Gloria was an unfit mother.

The trial exposed the dysfunction at the heart of one of America's wealthiest families and ended up with Vanderbilt given the nickname, "poor little rich girl".

As she grew up, Vanderbilt became one of America's most prominent socialites, and her friend, author Truman Capote, is rumoured to have based the iconic Breakfast at Tiffany's character, Holly Golightly, on her.


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