CNN shared the news of the artist and heiress' death on Monday, with Cooper himself narrating a video about her extraordinary life. Vanderbilt died on Monday morning after a battle with stomach cancer. She was 95 years old.
Vanderbilt is survived by three sons, 52-year-old Cooper being the youngest. The late fashion icon and designer was married four times and divorced three times. She married her first husband when she was 17 -- Pat DiCicco, an agent for actors -- in 1941, but they divorced after four years of marriage. She later claimed DiCicco was abusive toward her. She ended up marrying her second husband, conductor Leopold Stokowski, within weeks of divorcing DiCicco. The couple had two sons together, 68-year-old Leopold and 67-year-old Christopher, but they divorced after a decade of marriage.
Her third husband was director Sidney Lumet, whom she married in 1956, and their marriage lasted until 1963. Vanderbilt's last husband was late author Wyatt Emery Cooper, who died in 1978 while undergoing heart surgery. The pair had two sons together, Cooper as well as his older brother, Carter, who died by suicide in 1988. Carter, who was two years older than Cooper, was just 23 years old when he jumped out of Vanderbilt's 14th floor Manhattan apartment in front of her.
In an emotional 2011 interview on Cooper's talk show, Anderson, Vanderbilt talked about the traumatizing moment and said it was Cooper who kept her from jumping after Carter.
"There was a moment when...he did not jump," she said. "He was sitting on the wall 13 floors up, a balcony. And he was sitting on the wall with one foot on there and one foot hanging over, and he kept looking down. I kept begging him too... and then when he went, he went like an athlete and hung over the wall like this. I said, 'Carter, come back,' and for a minute I thought he was going to come back, but he didn't. He let go. There was a moment when I thought I was going to jump after him. But then I thought of you, and it stopped me from doing that."
Vanderbilt said she and Cooper no longer celebrated Christmas after Carter's death in a 2016 interview with People.
"Well, I remember the first Christmas we were together after it happened -- 'cause he died July 22 -- and we went to the movies," she said. "And then we went to the automat, and from then on we’ve never done anything about Christmas."
Cooper did note that the tragic death brought him and his mother closer.
"I think it obviously brought us together in ways and I think you can't help but come closer going through something like that, and, you know, it left us with each other," he told the magazine. "And, I think it's still hard to believe it's been so long because I think it's still so present in our lives, that sense of loss."
"We have never had what would be described as a conventional relationship," he acknowledged. "My mom wasn't the kind of parent you would go to for practical advice about school or work. What she does know about are hard-earned truths, the kind of things you discover only by living an epic life filled with love and loss, tragedies and triumphs, big dreams and deep heartaches."
He also praised her as resilient, and always open to new things.
"She has survived abuse, the loss of her parents, the death of a spouse, the suicide of a son, and countless other traumas and betrayals that might have defeated someone without her relentless determination," he wrote. "Though she is a survivor, she has none of the toughness that word usually carries with it. She is the strongest person I know, but tough, she is not. She has never allowed herself to develop a protective layer of thick skin. She's chosen to remain vulnerable, open to new experiences and possibilities, and because of that, she is the most youthful person I know."
In their 2016 HBO documentary, Nothing Left Unsaid, Cooper talked about taking after his famous mother.
"I grew up my entire life, thinking I'm exactly like my dad," he said. "I look a lot like him, but I realize now, I'm very much my mom's son. And we're a lot alike in a lot of ways. Some people are sucked under tragedy and loss. It destroys them. And some people, it propels them forward. And I think it certainly has with my mom, and it certainly has with me."
Cooper has said that both he and his mother struggled with the weight of their famous family. In a 2016 interview with CBS This Morning, Cooper admitted in the early days of his career, he didn't want to be attached to the Vanderbilt name. His mother was famous at an early age due to being in the middle of an intense custody battle between her mother and her late father's sister, Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney. Vanderbilt's father was financier Reginald Vanderbilt, the heir to a railroad fortune. Whitney was eventually granted custody.
"That name Vanderbilt has such baggage with it, such history, and I'm very glad I don't have that name, and my mom never felt much connection to the Vanderbilt family and I certainly didn't," Cooper said, noting that he always identified more with his father's more down-to-earth roots in Mississippi. "One of the happiest days for my mom, she called me and said, 'Somebody just referred to me as Anderson Cooper's mom.' Very happy that she's reached that stage of life."
As for how he was raised by his mom when his father died when he was just 10 years old, Cooper noted that his mom never treated him and his brother like kids.
"We were part of the conversation," he noted. "We were at the dinner table. There wasn't a kids table. My mom took us everywhere."
Cooper noted that his mom was always open and shared that with her kids, including introducing him to a gay couple she referred to as married when he was 10, even though it wasn't accepted at the time. When Cooper later came out to his mother, he said that although he had some trepidation, he always knew that ultimately, she would be "cool about it."
"My phone lit up. And I'd realized I'd forgotten to tell my mom I was making this announcement," he recalled. "I’d come out to her a long time ago, but she was like, 'Oh, you could've given me a heads up!'"
When Vanderbilt developed a respiratory infection in 2015 and became seriously ill for the first time in her life, her relationship with Cooper took another turn. The journalist said he realized he wanted to know his mother on a more personal level while she was still alive, and the two began emailing one another. The deeply personal emails became the basis for their 2016 book. In an excerpt, Cooper notes that the emails had the effect of "bringing us closer than either of us had ever thought possible."
"It's the kind of conversation I think many parents and their grown children would like to have, and it has made this past year the most valuable of my life," he wrote. "By breaking down the walls of silence that existed between us, I have come to understand my mom and myself in ways I never imagined."
"I know now that it's never too late to change the relationship you have with someone important in your life: a parent, a child, a lover, a friend," he continued. "All it takes is a willingness to be honest and to shed your old skin, to let go of the long-standing assumptions and slights you still cling to."
"She spent a lot of time alone in her head during her life, but when the end came, she was not alone," he shared. "She was surrounded by beauty, and by family, and by friends. The last few weeks, every time I kissed her goodbye, I'd say, 'I love you, Mom.' 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?"
"Gloria Vanderbilt was 95 years old when she died," he continued. "What an extraordinary life. What an extraordinary mom. What an incredible woman."
Gloria Vanderbilt died this morning, according to her son, CNN's Anderson Cooper.