Fashion icon and artist Gloria Vanderbilt dies at 95

CNN/Stylemagazine.com Newswire | 6/17/2019, 2:35 p.m.
Gloria Vanderbilt died Monday morning, according to her son, CNN's Anderson Cooper. The fashion designer, artist and socialite was 95.
Gloria Vanderbilt died Monday morning, according to her son, CNN's Anderson Cooper. The fashion designer and socialite was 95.

By Eliott C. McLaughlin, CNN

(CNN) -- Gloria Vanderbilt died Monday morning, according to her son, CNN's Anderson Cooper. The fashion designer, artist and socialite was 95.

She died in her Manhattan home with friends and family at her side.

"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."

Vanderbilt was diagnosed with an advanced form of stomach cancer earlier this month, Cooper said.

In the spotlight from the start

Born in New York in 1924, Gloria Laura Morgan Vanderbilt grew up in France. Her father, financier Reginald Vanderbilt, the heir to a railroad fortune, died when she was a baby.

Gloria was the focus of media attention at an early age, dubbed "the poor little rich girl" amid an intense custody battle between her mother and her father's wealthy sister, Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney. Though her aunt prevailed in court proceedings, young Gloria didn't know her well. She considered her nanny, Dodo, her mother figure.

"As a teenager she tried to avoid the spotlight, but reporters and cameramen followed her everywhere," Cooper said. "She was determined to make something of her life, determined to make a name for herself, and find the love she so desperately needed."

Modeling was an early interest, and at 15 she was photographed for Harper's Bazaar, the first of many appearances as a fashion model. She'd go on to appear in Vogue and Vanity Fair magazines and to pose for renowned photographers, such as Richard Avedon.

When she was 17, she married Hollywood agent Pat DiCicco in 1941, against her Aunt Gertrude's wishes. She'd later concede she knew it was a mistake at the time.

At 21, she took control of a $4.3 million trust fund her father had left her. She divorced DiCicco two months later and promptly remarried -- this time, to conductor Leopold Stokowski, who was 63 at the time.

"I knew him for a week and married three weeks later," she told Cooper during an interview.

Asked if her friends thought it was weird that she had fallen for a man four decades her senior, she said, "Didn't matter to me."

An artist at heart

With Stokowski, she began pursuing her passions, beginning with her artwork, which she first put on exhibit in 1948. She had two sons with Stokowski: Leopold Stokowski was born in 1950, Christopher Stokowski in 1952.

In 1954, she made her stage debut in a production of the romantic drama, "The Swan," at the Pocono Playhouse in Mountainhome, Pennsylvania. She published a book of poetry the following year, the same year she divorced Stokowski.

She found love again in Hollywood with director and producer Sidney Lumet, who would earn multiple Academy Award nominations for films, including "12 Angry Men," "Dog Day Afternoon" and "Network."