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Gloria Vanderbilt, American heiress and jeans queen, has died at 95

AP Photo
Vanderbilt in 1964.
By Sangeeta Singh-Kurtz
Published Last updated This article is more than 2 years old.

Gloria Vanderbilt, the artist, heiress, and philanthropist perhaps best known for her blue jeans empire has died at the age of 95. Her son, CNN journalist Anderson Cooper, announced her passing from stomach cancer this morning (June 17).

Vanderbilt, whose life was chronicled in the 2016 HBO documentary Nothing Left Unsaid, had lived in the public eye since she was a child. A descendent of the railroad tycoon Cornelius Vanderbilt—one of the wealthiest men in US history—she was dubbed the “poor little rich girl” by tabloids in the 1930s. The moniker, which kicked off her life in the spotlight, was thanks to a sensational custody battle waged by her grandmother and aunt against her birth mother.

The tabloids continued to follow Vanderbilt through her young adulthood, including during a string of high-profile relationships, including flings with the likes of Frank Sinatra and Marlon Brando. Indeed, Vanderbilt commanded New York society for much of her life; her friend Truman Capote was said to have based Breakfast at Tiffany‘s beloved Holly Golightly on her.

While Vanderbilt’s 30s and 40s were marked by four marriages and the tragic death of one of her children by suicide, she was also well known for her wide-ranging artistic endeavors—she was a painter, author, designer, and actress throughout the 1950s, and was dubbed “a feminine version of the Renaissance Man” in 1968 by Life Magazine.

In the 70s, she launched Gloria Vanderbilt Jeans, a range of affordable blue jeans emblazoned with an iconic yellow swan. The “Perfect Fit” jeans, known for their flattering, curve-hugging stretch denim, made her a household name during this period—and as some of the first designer jeans in fashion, the line earned Vanderbilt millions in her own right.

Vanderbilt was diagnosed with cancer earlier this month, but her family hadn’t announced her illness until today. Cooper’s tribute to his mother on CNN notes that Vanderbilt will be dearly missed. “What an extraordinary life,” he said on the network, “What an extraordinary mom. And what an incredible woman.”

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