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Cooper began recording the podcast alone while packing up the apartment of his mother, Gloria Vanderbilt, two years after she died in 2019 at the age of 95.
Vanderbilt was a legendary fashion designer and artist. The great-great-granddaughter of railroad and shipping tycoon Cornelius Vanderbilt, she lived a life marked by terrible tragedies and triumphs. In her apartment, Cooper discovered secret journals and fascinating keepsakes. In one box, he found a stack of telegrams from Frank Sinatra that had been sent to his mother when they were dating in the 1950s.
“They are exactly what you would hope loving telegrams from Frank Sinatra would sound like,” Cooper said.
Cooper’s father, Wyatt, a Mississippi writer, died suddenly in 1978 at age 50 after a heart attack, and 10 years later, Cooper’s brother, Carter, died by suicide, killing himself in front of Gloria Vanderbilt when he was 23 years old.
Before she died, Vanderbilt left hidden notes for Cooper attached to some belongings. Perhaps the most chilling was the note taped to a box containing the blouse and skirt Vanderbilt had been wearing when Carter died.
In going through his mother’s belongings, Cooper also had to go through his father’s and brother’s, which had been in storage since their deaths. He said the process left him feeling overwhelmed, and he began reaching out to others, recording his conversations with them about grief and loss, and what to do with the things his mother left behind.
“I was surprised how lonely I felt as the last surviving member of my immediate family,” Cooper said, “and I discovered that talking with others, who’d moved through grief and spoke the language of loss, was life-changing.”
Cooper said he was motivated to face his grief in large part by his two sons, Wyatt and Sebastian. “I didn’t want to pass on the pain and sadness I’ve felt for much of my life to them,” he added.
“I’m not going to pretend I don’t feel a terrible sense of loss any longer, far from it, but I think about that sadness and grief differently now, and I really hope this podcast will help others as well.”
CNN’s All There Is with Anderson Cooper will debut new episodes on Wednesdays and will be available on Apple Podcasts or wherever you get your podcasts.
Megan Marcus is the executive producer of CNN Audio.