Gloria Vanderbilt died at the grand old age of 95 having lived a remarkable life. She had come into the world as an heiress of the Vanderbilt railroad fortune – and left it as an artist, writer, actress and fashionista. Yet many people also know her as the mother of popular CNN news broadcaster Anderson Cooper. And while Vanderbilt and Cooper always seemed close, the presenter revealed how he truly felt about his mom during a segment of his show.
Of course, the pair had often showcased their bond to the world before – but Cooper had seemingly never been this open in the past. Even when, in 2016, the mother-and-son duo starred in an HBO documentary called Nothing Left Unsaid: Gloria Vanderbilt & Anderson Cooper. Interestingly, footage from this production played over Cooper’s comments after Vanderbilt passed away.
Perhaps that was fitting, though, because Cooper focused primarily on Vanderbilt’s life during his revealing eulogy. For instance, the star told the world all about the triumphs and tragedies he and his mother had faced together. He also painted a fascinating picture of Vanderbilt as a person – and the real relationship between the pair.
So who was Gloria Vanderbilt? Well, she was born into fame and fortune – the likes of which are mind-blowing. She was technically a multi-millionaire at the age of 18 months. This was when her father died and the Vanderbilt money passed to her and her half-sister. However, serious family strife tarnished Vanderbilt’s early years.
When Vanderbilt was nine years of age, for example, she became the subject of a very high-profile custody battle. The papers even dubbed it “the trial of the century.” That’s probably because Vanderbilt’s paternal aunt Gertrude accused the little girl’s mother of being an unfit parent and sought guardianship of her. The case was extremely scandalous for the 1930s public.
Case in point: the custody battle involved an accusation of lesbianism directed at Vanderbilt’s mother. A maid reportedly testified, “Mrs. Vanderbilt was in bed reading a paper, and there was Lady Milford Haven beside the bed with her arm around Mrs. Vanderbilt’s neck and kissing her just like a lover.” Incidentally, Lady Milford Haven was the wife of a relative to the British royal family.
After this accusation was made, the courtroom erupted into chaos. And before too long, the young Vanderbilt’s aunt was granted full custody. This was probably helped by the little girl reportedly telling the judge that she was terrified of her mother. So the publicly shamed elder Vanderbilt could now only see her daughter on weekends.
Vanderbilt looked back on the court case and what had happened to her as a child in her 2016 book, The Rainbow Comes and Goes: A Mother and Son on Life, Love, and Loss, which she co-wrote with Cooper. In it, she claimed that her aunt’s attorney, Frank Crocker, had fed her untrue stories to recite. And so the young Vanderbilt had seemingly done what she was instructed to.
The case affected Vanderbilt in other ways, too. For the longest time, for instance, she assumed that homosexual relationships were wrong. After all, everyone involved in the custody battle had treated them as such. This naturally provided an obstacle when Cooper came out to his mother at the age of 21.
And as Vanderbilt grew from a teenager to an adult, she had a series of bizarre marriages. She wed her first husband at the age of 17, in fact. This was agent Pat DiCicco, whose first wife – the famed actress Thelma Todd – had met a suspicious end. “You got married to a guy who there were rumors around he had killed his former wife?” Cooper asked his mother in Nothing Left Unsaid. “Sweetheart, I was only 17,” Vanderbilt answered.
That marriage lasted less than four years – and then Vanderbilt fell into the arms of her second husband. So, at the age of 20, she married 63-year-old Leopold Stokowski – having known him for only three weeks. She explained her reasoning in Nothing Left Unsaid: “I wanted a father, so I married Leopold.”
Vanderbilt also had two children with Stokowski: Stan and Christopher. This marriage lasted for ten years – and after that Vanderbilt only married a couple more times… Her final two husbands were director Sidney Lumet and writer Wyatt Emory Cooper. The latter man is the father of Cooper and his brother Carter. Unfortunately, Wyatt passed away in 1978, while he was still married to Vanderbilt. Cooper was ten years old at the time.
Needless to say, then, his father’s death – which occurred while Wyatt was having open-heart surgery – was very upsetting. In 2016 Cooper wrote an article for The New York Times in which he discussed what he’d ask his father if he could. “Is he proud of me? Does he approve of the man that I’ve become?” he pondered.
Yet Cooper losing his father was only one of two tragedies that hit the family over a ten-year period. In 1988, you see, Cooper’s brother Carter jumped out of the family’s apartment window, killing himself. Vanderbilt was with him at the time and witnessed his death.
In 2016 Cooper talked to People about how the loss of Carter affected his relationship with his mother. “I think it obviously brought us together in ways,” Cooper said. “And I think you can’t help but come closer going through something like that, and, you know, it left us with each other. And I think it’s still so present in our lives, that sense of loss.”
Vanderbilt’s other two sons, Stan and Chris Stokowski, occupied strange places in her life. They both stay away from the public eye, too. Stan was sometimes – but not often – seen with his mother, and Chris was reportedly estranged from the whole family for almost 40 years. However, Chris had reconciled with Vanderbilt before she died.
But Cooper is by far the most famous of Vanderbilt’s sons. And the CNN anchor has said in the past it was all the grief he suffered in life that made him want to pursue journalism. In fact, he wanted most of all to explore the nature of survival. He managed to turn it into a hugely successful career, too.
Throughout the ’00s, Cooper covered many notable stories. For instance, he reported on Hurricane Katrina, the passing of Pope John Paul II, the famine in Niger, the marriage of Prince Charles and Camilla Parker Bowles, and plenty of others. And in 2007 he signed a long-term contract with CNN.
Vanderbilt also had a very successful career – even though she could have just lived off the family fortune. Instead, she became a fashion designer and artist. Her designer denim jeans were incredibly popular in the later 1970s, for example. In fact, Cooper would often see his mother’s name stitched onto people’s back pockets.
Vanderbilt studied art at the Art Students League of New York. And in 1968 her artworks were licensed to Hallmark. She also held lots of exhibitions and authored two books about the subject. The multi-talented star was even supposedly working in her art studio right before she was diagnosed with cancer in June 2019.
According to reports, though, Vanderbilt had only nine days between being informed that she had stomach cancer and passing away. Yet she is said to have spent those last days in the company of some of those closest to her. Then she seemingly died peacefully in the early hours of June 17, 2019.
Upon his mother’s death, Cooper paid tribute to her on CNN. “Her private self, her real self, that was more fascinating and more lovely than anything she showed the public,” he said. “I always thought of her as a visitor from another world, a traveler stranded here who’d come from a distant star that burned out long ago.”
Cooper spoke more about his relationship with his mother. “I always felt it was my job to try and protect her. She was the strongest person I ever met, but she wasn’t tough. She never developed a thick skin to protect herself from hurt,” he said. “She wanted to feel it all, she wanted to feel life’s pleasures, and its pains as well.”
“She trusted too freely, too completely, suffered tremendous losses, but she always pressed on,” Cooper continued. “Always worked hard, always believed the best was yet to come… And she was always in love. In love with men, or with friends, or with books and art, with her children and then her great-grandchildren.”
Cooper then recalled the time his mother was informed of her diagnosis. “Earlier this month, we had to take her to the hospital,” he said. “That’s where she learned she had very advanced cancer in her stomach and that it had spread.” The broadcaster went on to explain that Vanderbilt was initially quiet upon hearing the news. But she eventually said, “Well, it’s like that old song, ‘Show Me The Way To Get Out Of This World.’”
Cooper had filmed his mother while she lay in her hospital bed. “Later she made a joke, and we started giggling. I never knew that we had the exact same giggle. I recorded it, and it makes me giggle every time I watch it,” he said. Then he talked of his mother’s final days. “Gloria Vanderbilt died as she lived: on her own terms,” he said.
“I know she hoped for a little more time, a few days or weeks at least,” Cooper continued. “There were paintings she wanted to make, more books she wanted to read, more dreams to dream. But she was ready. She was ready to go.” And he added, “She spent a lot of time alone in her head during her life, but when the end came, she was not alone.”
Cooper shared the details of his final interactions with Vanderbilt. “The last few weeks, every time I kissed her goodbye, I’d say, ‘I love you, Mom,’” he said. “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?”
The eulogy ended with simple, heartrending words from Cooper. “Gloria Vanderbilt was 95 years old when she died. What an extraordinary life. What an extraordinary mom. And what an incredible woman.” After he wrapped up, one of the anchors who had introduced him commented, “And now you know where Anderson got that laugh.”
Many other tributes for Vanderbilt poured in after news of her death went around the world. And plenty of sympathy for Cooper was also mixed in. “How heartbreaking to report on your own mother’s passing. RIP, Gloria Vanderbilt. Wishing you and your family peace, @andersoncooper,” wrote Elizabeth Joseph.
A few days later, Cooper spoke about his mother once more on CNN. This time, he began by thanking people for their words. “Your cards and emails, your texts and DMs on Instagram, and tweets, truly meant a lot,” he said. “My mom would be stunned by all the attention and the kind words which have been written and spoken about her.”
Cooper went on, “I know this because I got her to join Instagram when she was, like, 92 or so. She didn’t think that anyone would actually follow her. ‘Why would anyone be interested?’ she asked. It wasn’t long before she had some 200,000 followers, and I gotta tell you, it tickled her beyond belief.”
Then Cooper shared some more about Vanderbilt’s early years. “Mary Gordon the author wrote, ‘A fatherless girl thinks all things possible and nothing safe.’ That’s how my mom felt her entire life,” he said. “Nothing ever felt safe to her, but anything was possible… She never let fear, or pain, or loss prevent her from forging ahead.”
“My mom found out on June 8 that she had cancer,” Cooper continued. “She lived nine more days. Friends came to see her, she laughed a lot, she saw her family. Her nurses cared for her with true love and affection. It was the best end possible to her remarkable life. Being able to spend those nine days and nine nights with her was a great, great blessing.”
Speaking about the exact moment of his mother’s death, Cooper described how he had been there for her. “She died Monday, shortly after 4:00 a.m. And though I was holding her hand and her head when she took her last breath, it’s still a little hard for me to believe she’s gone.” But he went on to describe the way he thinks of his mother in the wake of her passing.
One of Vanderbilt’s friends described the late celebrity as “her north star,” Cooper explained. “The person she used as her guide, a light in the darkness,” he elaborated. “I never realized until now how much she was my north star as well. Right now, things seem a lot less bright and magical without her.” For a moment, Cooper paused with emotion.
The grieving news reporter picked himself up again and went on, “My dad died when I was ten and my brother when I was 21. She was the last of my immediate family, the last person who knew me from the beginning. They’re all gone, and it feels very lonely right now. I hope they are at least together.”
Cooper closed out this second tribute with a video of a song called “Is That All There Is?” performed by Peggy Lee. “She’d like me to play this video of a Peggy Lee song on YouTube… We’d sing along to this chorus,” Cooper said. “I’d hold my mom’s hand while we were singing and move it back and forth as though we were dancing, having a ball.”
Cooper’s eloquent tributes to his late mother appeared to touch a chord with many people who watched them. “Nothing hurts quite like losing a mom. She was a regal lady. Look at the wonderful man and professional journalist she gifted the world. Job well done, Gloria,” wrote one person on YouTube.
Cooper played the whole Peggy Lee song out just like Vanderbilt would have wanted. And then he finished his tribute to his beloved mother with the following words. “Every time the song ended, she would say, ‘Isn’t that marvelous?’” he revealed. “She’d be smiling, and it was. With her, my mom, it was marvelous.”
Another stunning tribute came from Zak Williams. It’s been several years now since beloved actor Robin Williams passed away, of course. But when the legendary comedian died in 2014, he left behind three devastated children: Zak, Zelda and Cody. They, along with the rest of the world, were floored by the news. And while they all released tribute statements honoring their late father at the time, in June 2019 Zak again paid his respects to Robin in a way that brought tears to fans’ eyes around the world.
But Zak’s initial reaction after his father died was heartbreaking in itself. In a statement released through his dad Robin’s representative, he said, “Yesterday, I lost my father and a best friend, and the world got a little grayer. I will carry his heart with me every day. I would ask those that loved him to remember him by being as gentle, kind, and generous as he would be. Seek to bring joy to the world as he sought.”
In the time since Robin’s tragic suicide, Zak did what his father would almost certainly have wanted: he moved on with his life. The bereaved man also sought to bring joy to the world – just as he had encouraged others to do – via volunteering. And in 2019 Zak reached an important life milestone – and decided that he would use the opportunity to honor his father once more.
When Zak was born in 1983, though, his father Robin was going through a difficult period in his life. Substance abuse was taking a toll on him, but the knowledge that he would now have to support a child inspired the comedian to renounce drugs and alcohol. And he remained committed to sobriety for the first 20 years of Zak’s life – although this was sadly set to change.
In a 1988 interview with Rolling Stone, Robin explained of his addiction, “Six months before Zak was born, I basically stopped everything.” And he also considered his relationship with his young son while talking to the magazine. For instance, when the interviewer asked, “What has fatherhood taught you about yourself?” he replied with a powerful answer.
Robin said he had learned that “most of your actions have consequences with [your] child.” He continued, “And I’ve learned to have the security not to worry that he will love me – as long as I keep the connection strong enough. I’ve learned not to try to force the love. You can’t. All you can do is try to set up a world for him that’s safe and stable enough to make him happy.”
There were a number of other complications that were rocking Robin’s private life, however. Zak’s mother was Valerie Velardi – the actor’s first wife. And when the couple divorced in 1988, it was amid whispers of infidelity. The media reported that Robin had cheated on Valerie with Zak’s nanny Marcia Garces – whom he later married. But in 2018 Valerie admitted that particular rumor was never true: apparently, Robin had only started seeing Marcia once the marriage had effectively ended.
And Robin told Rolling Stone that young Zak took the divorce well. The star said, “He understands it. He sometimes gets confused and calls someone by the wrong name. But we have a good custody agreement, so he comes and goes freely. He knows exactly how many days he’s here and how many days he’s there.”
“Children at [Zak’s] age do not want to deal with the anger and the volatility – or whatever would develop,” Robin continued. “As long as things are peaceable, he’s fine switching back and forth. Also, he doubles down at Christmas: ‘Look, I got this many dinosaurs.’” And the comedian went on to reveal to the magazine a particularly intimate detail about his relationship with his son.
Yes, Robin confessed to Rolling Stone that he performed wacky comedy routines for Zak. He said, “I did a Señor Wences thing for him. I dressed my fist in a napkin and was Mother Teresa. I played her drunk and made her drink water, which I’d spill down my arm. He liked that.”
But Robin also enjoyed some quieter times with his young son as well. The actor told People magazine in 1988, “In the morning I often watch TV with [Zak]. They show those wonderful old Warner Brothers cartoons. To hear a child laugh like that – to see him watch Wile E. Coyote! My God – it’s something incredible!”
Yet Zak was far from the only child vying for Robin’s attention. You see, after tying the knot with Marsha in 1989, the actor had two other children: Zelda and Cody, who were born in 1989 and 1991, respectively. Unfortunately, though, Robin’s relationship with his second wife didn’t last, either. In 2010 they divorced, citing “irreconcilable differences.” But the comedian’s love life was far from over: the very next year, he stepped down the aisle once more.
Yet despite Robin’s express third wedding – this time to Susan Schneider – he remained close to all three of his children. In 2010 during an interview with Little White Lies, the actor was asked what the best thing about being Robin Williams was. He responded, “I’d have to say my kids – they’re amazing. I’m so proud of them on all levels. They make life worth living.”
However, in 2014 the Williams children were forced to witness their father growing more and more unwell. He was diagnosed with Parkinson’s disease – a disorder that slowly degenerates the nervous system. And at this trying time, Robin’s eldest son Zak was married to an associate director of the NGO Human Rights Watch called Alex Mallick.
Apparently, Robin would sometimes drop by to visit Zak and Alex at their home. And the last time that he did so was at the beginning of August 2014 – just a few days before he died. But Zak reportedly noticed that something wasn’t quite right with Robin and implored his father to stay. He revealed to Vanity Fair in 2014, “We didn’t want someone who seemed like he was in so much anguish to leave. We wanted him to stay; we wanted to take care of him.”
Then on August 11, 2014, Robin was found dead in his room – he had taken his own life. And as soon as the news got out, the film and entertainment world was heartbroken. Heartfelt tributes to the actor subsequently poured in from every corner of the globe, and fans gathered on social media to share quotes from the actor’s most popular movies and their treasured memories of the star.
What’s more, even the President of the United States paid his respects to Robin. Barack Obama said in an official statement, “Robin Williams was an airman, a doctor, a genie, a nanny, a president, a professor, a bangarang Peter Pan and everything in between. But he was one of a kind.”
Plenty of other major tributes took place in the days after Robin’s death, too. For instance, a few days after his passing, Broadway dimmed its lights in honor of him and that night the resident Aladdin musical put on a special performance. And for the Primetime Emmy Awards that August, Robin’s friend Billy Crystal touchingly eulogized him on stage.
“Thank you for the tremendous outpouring of support and love during this difficult time. Our family is deeply grateful of both,” Zak wrote on his Twitter in August 2014. And for their part, his siblings Zelda and Cody released their own statements in which they opened up about their great sorrow.
Zelda, for one, chose to reference her last interaction with her father. She said in a statement, “My last day with him was his birthday, and I will be forever grateful that my brothers and I got to spend that time alone with him, sharing gifts and laughter. He was always warm – even in his darkest moments.”
For his part, Cody – the youngest of the family – wrote in a statement, “There are no words strong enough to describe the love and respect I have for my father. The world will never be the same without him. I will miss him and take him with me everywhere I go for the rest of my life, and [I] will look forward, forever, to the moment when I get to see him again.”
In Zelda’s statement, moreover, she made an earnest suggestion for plugging the hole left by her father. “Not just my world, but the entire world is forever a little darker, less colorful and less full of laughter in [Robin’s] absence. We’ll just have to work twice as hard to fill it back up again.” And at least one person took this advice on board; during the following year, a grieving Zak began pushing himself to the limit.
In particular, Zak started to volunteer at a prison, providing financial help for inmates. On the anniversary of his father Robin’s death, he told Today in 2015, “I come from an entitled background where I could have not worked hard – just coasted for a chunk of my life, up to a point. But I opted to take pride and joy in the work that I do and to establish accountability.”
And as it turned out, Zak harbored a passion for the complex work. He continued, “For me, there’s a set of skills that involves problem-solving and analysis that I find to be enjoyable. It’s developing a different understanding of a market, and it [fosters] a deeper understanding of the economy and the human condition as a whole.”
Zak taught the class along with one of the inmates, Curtis Carroll, whom he said had “chosen to follow a path of constant learning and to develop accountability for his students.” And when the Today interviewer suggested that Robin would probably have backed the project if he’d had the chance, Zak couldn’t help but agree. “I think he would have loved the program and loved participating; we know he’s there in their spirit,” he concluded.
In October 2015 Zak also contributed his time to the Foundation of Hope – a non-profit organization focused on mental illness. And at one of the group’s events, called the Evening of Hope, he said, “Despite his own anguish and struggles, [my father] endeavored to bring light and laughter where there was despair and pain, and it’s his inspiring attitude that fills me with pride every day.”
As for Zak’s personal life, he did eventually split from Alex. But the prison volunteer found love again with a woman named Olivia June – the CEO of women’s community app Hey! VINA – and by the spring of 2019 the pair were engaged with a baby well on the way. Subsequently, in May 2019, the happy couple welcomed a little one into the world and announced their good news on social media the following month.
Olivia posted pictures of the new baby on her Instagram page along with a heartwarming caption. She wrote, “Introducing you to my little family! My fiancé, Zak, and I were so happy to welcome baby McLaurin to the world on May 22. We are beyond thrilled he chose us to be his parents and obviously think he’s the best, smartest, and cutest baby ever!”
And Olivia also took the time to explain why the couple hadn’t revealed the news of their little one right away. She continued, “In life today, we expect everything to be live shared on social media – and many who are close to me are even just learning this news.” For his part, Zak doesn’t interact with social media much either: his own Instagram is a private one.
Again taking to Instagram, Olivia spoke about how Zak had been a huge part of her journey to motherhood, posting, “None of this would be possible without the most incredible and supportive partner a woman could ever hope for. Zak, the headline is true: you’re already and will always be, ‘World’s Greatest Dad!’ Mickey and I are the luckiest.” For those who don’t know, World’s Greatest Dad is the title of a 2009 Robin Williams film.
As we mentioned earlier, Zak and Olivia’s child is called McLaurin – but where did they get the unusual name from? Well, the moniker was actually Robin’s middle name. At birth, you see, the future star was named Robin McLaurin Williams – after his mother. And now the family name had been passed down to his grandchild in tribute to the legendary comic.
Many people posted congratulatory messages on Olivia’s Instagram page, with some of them choosing to reference Robin. For instance, one wrote, “Congratulations mommy and daddy! Love the name tribute, bless your family!” Conversely, another penned, “Beautiful baby and family. Thank you for sharing your happy moment. I loved your dad, and I know he is very happy right now.”
Zelda also posted some sweet family snaps on Instagram in June 2019. She wrote, “News is finally out: I’m an auntie! Meet Mclaurin Clement Williams, aka Mickey, aka Dr. Baby! He’s a squishably cute, pterodactyl-cooing tiny wonder, and I love him so much already. Big shout-out to Mickey on being the fastest swimmer, and huge congrats to [Olivia] and my big bro [Zak] on creating this little joy.”
And it seems that May 2019 was a busy month for Zak for other reasons, too. As well as welcoming a new baby, the prison volunteer also spoke about his father for a campaign called FacesOfFortitude – a project that aims to support those who’ve lost a loved one to suicide. He appeared on their Instagram page and penned a moving post about the grief that he had suffered.
Zak also explained what it had felt like to mourn in front of the whole world. He candidly wrote, “There’s no education in place to tell you how to deal with this. To balance how to grieve privately with your family and then also to have to grieve publicly. While it was nice to be heard, I was spending time on the outer layer instead of on the inside.”
Zak also revealed that he had slowly healed in the three years since his father died. He continued, “It was super painful. I had to stop thinking big and expansive to heal everyone and look inward. I found a lot in there; I realized I wasn’t broken. There was a lot of strength I didn’t know was in there.”
And Zak took the opportunity to ruminate on the outpouring of grief that he’d experienced from other people after Robin’s death. He said, “A lot of people wanted to be part of the process for so many reasons… [But] you can’t be there for others until you first have done the work and processed for yourself. Be able to differentiate what public versus private processing looks like.”
What’s more, other people who had known and loved Robin while he was alive have also since taken steps to heal by throwing themselves into important work. After his death, it was discovered the actor had actually been suffering from a condition called Lewy body dementia – not Parkinson’s. And now his widow Susan Schneider is working tirelessly to bring attention to it.
In 2016, for instance, Susan published a piece in the journal Neurology, describing her husband’s last days. She wrote, “Hopefully from this sharing of our experience you will be inspired to turn Robin’s suffering into something meaningful through your work and wisdom. It is my belief that when healing comes out of Robin’s experience, he will not have battled and died in vain.”
For his part, Zak appears to be working to achieve this goal, too – but in a different way. His wife Olivia wrote on Instagram to commemorate Father’s Day, “Mickey and I couldn’t be luckier to have you as [a] dad. You make us laugh, you keep us very well fed, you teach so many things and go above and beyond in every way. The reviews are in, and you’re truly keeping the legacy of ‘Great and Amazing!’ dads alive! We love you!”