What Anderson Cooper Gained Through Immense Loss

In a deeply personal conversation, Anderson Cooper explored how the deaths of his mom, dad and brother impacted the course of his life: “I am the person I am because of the losses I have experienced.”

By Jamie Blynn Oct 12, 2022 11:30 AMTags
Watch: Remembering Gloria Vanderbilt: 4 Things You Didn't Know About Her

It was a task Anderson Cooper had been dreading.

Three years after mom Gloria Vanderbilt passed away at the age of 95, he was tasked with cleaning out some 100 years of memories—belonging to her, her late husband, Wyatt, and Anderson's older brother, Carter—from the socialite's New York City apartment. 

As he sorted through Wyatt's pajamas and the outfit Gloria wore the day Carter died, he felt incredibly alone. Not just physically in his mom's Upper East Side home, but also in his grief and the suddenly overwhelming responsibility of keeping his family's history alive.

So, ever the storyteller, Anderson picked up his iPhone and hit record. "I found it helpful to start narrating," the Anderson Cooper 360 host shared in an exclusive interview with E! News. "I was narrating this painful experience in order to help me through it."

In turn, he helped thousands of strangers. Because what started as a simple voice note has turned into a raw and deeply personal exploration of loss through his new CNN podcast, All There Is.

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"I am the person I am because of the losses I have experienced and the love that I have for these people," he shared. "What has helped me tremendously is the realization that this road has been traveled by many. And we're not alone."

Because, in the end, grief is the great equalizer. Whether we want to admit it or not, we're all going to experience it. Myself included. And now, while confronting his own loss, the 55-year-old hopes to make the topic a bit less taboo. 

Alex Grady/E! Illustration

"We don't talk about it enough and not talking about it compounds that loneliness and that pain of grief," he said. "It's taken years for me to get to a place where I can speak about it. I wish I had been able to do this sooner."

It's what I've found solace in doing in the three-plus years since my dad died, pushing myself to speak not only about him, but his death without pause, without fear of making others uncomfortable. So, together, Anderson and I dove right past the surface level in a conversation that unfolded in two parts, with him following through on his promise to call me back after a 60 Minutes meeting to finish discussing how death impacted the course of our lives. And how there's something to be gained in loss.

Jack Robinson/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

For him, that journey began when he was 10 and his dad Wyatt, a writer, died during open heart surgery at age 50. That January day in 1978, "the calendars reset to year zero," Anderson said. "The clock stopped, and a new life began."

He doesn't recall much from those days that followed—if you've been there, you likely understand—but rather, he can detail what didn't happen.

"People didn't know how to speak to me afterward," he admitted. "I think I hoped somebody would understand I was suffering, and I wanted them to reach out without me having to say anything. But even if they had tried, I don't think I could speak about my dad. I was blank."

Jack Robinson/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Instead, he turned his attention to his mom, who, as she built her denim empire, was often traveling while Wyatt stayed home.  

"I suddenly found myself with a parent who I didn't really know as well as I knew the other," he noted. "I became very close to her, but it was from a perspective of wanting to be the steady, stable presence in her life, which my dad had been." (On the Oct. 5 podcast episode, he and Molly Shannon discuss those blurred lines between parent and child that can follow death.)  

Once outgoing, Anderson found himself retreating. "I used to say I am a different person than I was meant to be," he mused. "I became much more introverted and wary, observing more than participating. But I don't know that those are negative things necessarily."

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But another tidal wave was coming. On July 22, 1988, his brother Carter, 23, died by suicide, with Anderson later explaining Gloria attempted to save him as he jumped off the terrace of her apartment. As the 21-year-old and his mom attempted to cope with the unfathomable sadness, their grief became a sideshow. He distinctly remembers reporters camping out outside their home, and cameras following them to Carter's wake.

While Wyatt's death felt sudden, Carter's was, as Anderson described, utterly shocking, clouded by a violence he's unsure he will ever come to terms with.

"It makes you wonder, did I even know this person? What does it say about a relationship that I didn't know this was a possibility?" he shared. "I struggle with that 34 years later. There are moments that still just stop me in my tracks and it's like a punch to the gut."

Thomas Iannaccone/WWD/Penske Media via Getty Images

What about remembering Carter for how he lived and not how he died, I asked.

"It's hard to get to that place, particularly if their death was violent," he responded. "He will always be this 23-year-old. It's hard to imagine who he would be or what he would be doing today. I don't think I'm there yet in being able to overcome the circumstances of his death and see his life without it being in the shadows of what happened."

Because, despite what anyone says about having to go through it to get over it, in reality, you're just in it. There's no end to grieving. You keep going—and along the way, you hope to find some silver linings.

Jenny Anderson/WireImage

For Anderson, that was growing closer to his mom—and finding the strength to confront her.

"She drank from time to time, and it very much upset me," he shared. "It was never spoken about. But after my brother's death, I said, 'Look, I can't have a relationship with you as I would like to if you continue to drink.' And so, she stopped."

It was the reset they needed, especially as they navigated their new normal. "We both felt we were on a life raft," the 18-time Emmy winner explained. "It made us rethink and reform our relationship in a very honest and real way."

Together, they kept that just-keep-swimming mentality going until the very end. When Gloria was diagnosed with stomach cancer in 2019 and given weeks to live, Anderson remained by her side. Unlike with Wyatt and Carter, where he felt so much was left unsaid, nothing was left on the table.

Anderson Cooper

"I was able to anticipate my mom's death. I was able to plan for it and imagine my life without her," he shared. "I was ready. We talked in a very real, honest way about what lay ahead and what her death would be like. What was going to happen over the next several days and what her thoughts were. Would she see my dad and my brother again?"

Today, Anderson sees them—his mom, too—in sons Wyatt, 2, and Sebastian, 8 months, who he co-parents with former partner Benjamin Maisani.

"My boys look a lot like my mom when she was a child, and my brother looked a lot like my mom," he shared. "And, they have my dad's very blue eyes, which I have. It's this incredible circular wheel of life, as cheesy and very Lion King as that sounds."


And when they look into his eyes—the ones that look so much like Wyatt's—he wants them to see hope, a sense of healing.

"Having kids makes me want to be the best version of myself," Anderson said. "I don't want there to be this strange thing like, ‘Why is dad so weird about his brother or his mom or his dad? Why are we not allowed to talk about it?' I don't want there to be hidden sadness. So, in doing this, I'm trying to learn and understand as much as anybody who is listening. And I just hope I'm doing a good enough job."


The outpouring of gratitude from listeners—yes, he reads every DM, even if he doesn't respond—should be enough proof. Through conversations with Stephen Colbert, Molly Shannon and more, Anderson is not only navigating where he is on his own grief journey, but also validating the myriad of feels of those listening, myself included.

"There's no bulls--t. It's not about politics or whatever is playing out in pop culture. It's something that's fundamental to who we are," he said. "The pain that is out there, the loss that is out there, it is deep. It's an ocean of grief and sadness."

And All There Is is his life raft. It's all of ours.

New episodes of All There Is are available every Wednesday. 

If you or someone you know needs help, call 988 to reach the Suicide and Crisis Lifeline. You can also call the network, previously known as the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, at 800-273-8255, text HOME to 741741 or visit SpeakingOfSuicide.com/resources for additional resources.