The incredible life of Anderson Cooper: How the son of an heiress became America's favourite news anchor

JB Lacroix/WireImageAnderson Cooper.

Though now known as the lead anchor and face of CNN’s “Anderson Cooper 360,” Anderson Cooper has led a life of adventure, tragedy, and celebrity as he has appeared right at home in high society and war-torn countries alike across the world.

Cooper has been a household name since he was born to the model, socialite, and heiress Gloria Vanderbilt, long before he led political coverage on one of the most prominent American news networks.

In perhaps his most memorable report to date, Cooper remembered his time alongside his famous mother as a “great blessing” and said he felt “very lonely” as the last living member of his immediate family.

See how Cooper made his own name.


Anderson Hays Cooper was born in New York City on June 3, 1967.

Jack Robinson/Hulton Archive/Getty ImageGloria Vanderbilt with her sons Anderson Cooper, left, and Carter Vanderbilt Cooper in their home on March 30, 1972, in Southampton, Long Island, New York.

He is the second son of the writer Wyatt Emory Cooper and Gloria Vanderbilt, a well-known designer, railroad-fortune heiress, and socialite.

Jack Robinson/Hulton Archive/Getty ImagesFamily portrait of the Coopers on March 30, 1972.

In addition to her famous last name, Vanderbilt came to be known for her creative prowess through art, writing, and design.

Evelyn Floret/The LIFE Images Collection via Getty ImagesVanderbilt sitting amid a group of models bending over to accent the rear of her designer jeans.

Vanderbilt cemented her legacy with a skinny jean that bore her signature on the back pocket.


Because of his family’s place at the top of New York City society, Cooper grew up in the public eye.

Susan Wood/Getty ImagesVanderbilt and her sons, Carter Vanderbilt Cooper, left, and Anderson Cooper in New York City in March 1976.

Tragedy first struck the family when Cooper was 10. His father died in January 1978 while undergoing open heart surgery.

Source: The New York Times


After his father died, Anderson and his brother Carter were often pictured alongside their mother at public appearances.

PL Gould/IMAGES/Getty ImagesVanderbilt with Anderson and Carter in 1980.

Like his mother, Cooper modelled. At age 10, he signed with Ford Models, appearing in ads for Macy’s and Ralph Lauren.

Cooper said he stopped modelling at 13 after a male photographer propositioned him.


Cooper went on to attend the exclusive Dalton School before studying journalism at Yale University, from which he graduated in 1989.

Source: Yale Daily News


Cooper interned at the CIA while searching for an on-air gig after graduation.

Brooks Kraft LLC/Corbis via Getty ImagesCIA headquarters in McLean, Virginia.

“It was less James Bond than I hoped it would be,” Cooper told a crowd at American University while accepting the “Wonk of the Year” award in 2013.


Tragedy struck the family again when his 21-year-old brother Carter took his own life in front of their mother when he went over the balcony of her high-rise Manhattan apartment.

Ron Galella/Ron Galella Collection via Getty ImagesCarter Cooper at Limelight in New York City.

Source: People


Cooper and his mother have both pointed to Carter’s death as bringing them closer together.

Ron Galella/Ron Galella Collection via Getty ImagesVanderbilt and Anderson Cooper during the funeral for Carter Cooper on July 26, 1988, in New York City.

Source: People


After graduation, Cooper struggled to find an on-air reporting gig and instead invented his own.

Bored by his time in his first job as a fact-checker,Cooper faked a press pass and travelled on his own to Myanmar, where he single-handedly shot video segments on the border of Thailand and Myanmar on refugees’ clashes with government forces.

Channel One then bought the footage and promoted Cooper from fact-checker to correspondent, after which he reported and produced stories to capture deadly conflicts in Bosnia, Cambodia, Haiti, Israel, Myanmar, Russia, Rwanda, Somalia, and South Africa.


After nearly four years as an international correspondent for Channel One, Cooper joined ABC as a reporter in 1995.

Craig Sjodin /Walt Disney Television via Getty Images via Getty ImagesCooper promotional photo for Walt Disney Television.

Source: Biography


At ABC, Cooper led reports from all over the world before assuming a coanchor role on the network’s “World News Now.”

Malcolm Linton /ABC via Getty ImagesAnderson Cooper reporting from Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of the Congo in 1997 for ABC News.

Taking a hiatus from news that he later blamed on the thankless schedule, Cooper hosted the ABC reality show “The Mole” but left to return to news after the September 11 terrorist attacks.

“My last year at ABC, I was working overnights anchoring this newscast then during the day at 20/20,” Anderson later said. “I was sleeping in two- or four-hour shifts, and I was really tired and wanted a change. I wanted to clear my head and get out of news a little bit, and I was interested in reality TV – and it was interesting.”

Cooper said he decided to make his exit because “two seasons was enough, and 9/11 happened, and I thought I needed to be getting back to news.”


In 2001, Cooper joined CNN as a weekend anchor before moving to a prime-time role in 2003 after the Iraq War.

Shepard Sherbell/Corbis via Getty ImagesCooper at the Republican National Convention in Madison Square Garden.

On September 8, 2003, Cooper made his debut as host of “Anderson Cooper 360.”

Source: CNN


Cooper led the network’s coverage of several important events, including the 2004 presidential election.

Carley Margolis/FilmMagicCooper and Sean ‘Diddy’ Combs at the 2004 Republican National Convention.

He became a familiar on-air fixture as he rubbed shoulders with several big names during the race as he emerged as a prominent voice in the political arena.


Major news moments like former President Ronald Reagan’s June 2004 death also gave Cooper time at the front of the network.

Pete Mitchell/WireImageCooper where mourners lined up outside the US Capitol to pay their respects to President Ronald Reagan.

It was his on-air reporting in the September 2005 aftermath of Hurricane Katrina that launched him to become a household name as he provided emotional accounts of the devastation in New Orleans.

Lindsay Brice/Getty ImagesCooper during the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina as he interviews members of the New Orleans Police Department.

Cooper’s empathetic reporting was so widely watched it was mocked on “Saturday Night Live.”

Dana Edelson/NBC/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty ImagesAmy Poehler as Sharon Stone, Seth Meyers as Anderson Cooper, Horatio Sanz as Aaron Neville during an ‘Anderson Cooper 360’ skit on October 1, 2005.

In May 2007, Cooper released his book “Dispatches from the Edge” that chronicled his experiences reporting from war zones.

Source: Amazon


As he garnered professional success, Cooper maintained a relatively private personal life before coming out as gay in 2012.

Cooper pushed back on prying questions about his personal life in a 2005 interview with New York magazine. Cooper said he didn’t talk publicly about his personal life because of the possibility it would distract from his role as a reporter.

“The whole thing about being a reporter is that you’re supposed to be an observer and to be able to adapt with any group you’re in, and I don’t want to do anything that threatens that,” he said.

However, in 2012, Cooper announced in a widely circulated email that he was gay, writing that he decided it would do more harm if he continued to dodge the question.

“It’s become clear to me that by remaining silent on certain aspects of my personal life for so long, I have given some the mistaken impression that I am trying to hide something that makes me uncomfortable, ashamed or even afraid,” Cooper wrote. “This is distressing because it is simply not true. I’ve also been reminded recently that while as a society we are moving toward greater inclusion and equality for all people, the tide of history only advances when people make themselves fully visible.”


During his time at CNN and as a correspondent for CBS’s “60 Minutes,” Cooper scooped up 16 Emmy Awards, two Peabody Awards, and an Edward R. Murrow Award.

JB Lacroix/WireImageCooper in 2011 CNN.

Source: CNN


Another of Cooper’s regular gigs includes hosting “New Year’s Live,” where he has entertained viewers since 2003.

Joe Corrigan/Getty ImagesCooper attends New Year’s Eve 2011 with Carson Daly at Times Square on December 31, 2010, in New York City.

Cooper became a regular fixture on the program alongside Kathy Griffin while the two were cohosts for 10 years before Griffin’s dramatic exit after a controversial photo shoot with a fake version of President Donald Trump’s bloodied head.

Noam Galai/FilmMagicAnderson Cooper and Kathy Griffin host ‘New Year’s Eve Live’ on CNN during New Year’s Eve 2017.

Cooper and Griffin both publicly talked about their friendship before Griffin’s photo controversy, but amid the backlash against Griffin, Cooper publicly called the photo “clearly disgusting and completely inappropriate.”

Following those comments, Cooper said he was still friends with Griffin and wished her the best, but Griffin said their friendship was over.

Source: People


Griffin was later replaced by Cooper’s friend and Bravo personality Andy Cohen.

Taylor Hill/FilmMagicAndy Cohen and Cooper host CNN’s New Year’s Eve coverage.

Source: Bravo


In 2016, Cooper released a book he wrote with his mother that offered personal reflections on their close relationship.

“The Rainbow Comes and Goes” came after Cooper and Vanderbilt resolved to keep up close correspondence as he was buried in work and she dealt with a newly onset illness. The book contains a year-long record of correspondence between the mother and son, who reflect on their family’s tragedies and share tokens of wisdom.


As the 2016 campaign heated up, Cooper was at the front of coverage on key moments like the real-estate tycoon Donald Trump’s emergence as a Republican presidential candidate.

Spencer Platt/Getty ImagesDonald Trump after taping an interview with Cooper on July 22, 2015.

Cooper was selected in 2016 to co-moderate one of the three debates between Trump and Hillary Clinton.

Jim Bourg-Pool/Getty ImagesHillary Clinton, moderator Cooper, and Trump during the town hall debate at Washington University on October 9, 2016, in St Louis.

Outside his reporting duties, Cooper has established a celebrity identity while appearing at events like New York Fashion Week alongside famous friends, including actress Sarah Jessica Parker and Cohen.

Astrid Stawiarz/Getty Images for IMGSarah Jessica Parker, Cohen, and Cooper.

In 2011, he was honored with a wax lookalike, cementing his status among the world’s most recognisable celebrities.

Charles Eshelman/WireImageCooper unveils his wax figure at Madame Tussauds on September 14, 2011, in New York City.

Cooper even made appearances on Cohen’s “Watch What Happens Live,” once accompanied by his mother.

Charles Sykes/Bravo/NBCU Photo Bank via Getty ImagesCohen, Vanderbilt, and Cooper on ‘Watch What Happens Live.’

The anchor came to be one of Trump’s top critics, often criticising the administration during the “Keeping Them Honest” segment of “Anderson Cooper 360.”

YouTube

Source: Business Insider


In what is arguably Cooper’s most memorable segment to date, he memorialised his mother who died on June 17, 2019, at the age of 95.

Jenny Anderson/WireImageCooper and Vanderbilt on April 14, 2016.

Cooper said on air that the time he spent with her after her June 8 cancer diagnosis was a “great blessing” and he now felt “very lonely” after her death.

“I never realised until now how much she was my North Star, things seem a lot less bright and magical without her,” he said. “My dad died when I was 10, 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.”

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