It was a story that didn’t only shock society circles, but seemed to touch families everywhere: the 1988 suicide of Carter Cooper, the 23-year-old son of author, socialite and fashion designer Gloria Vanderbilt.
For Carter’s younger brother, Anderson Cooper, who was 21 at the time (he is now 46), Carter’s fatal jump from the terrace of their mother’s 14th-floor Manhattan penthouse is something he still thinks about every day, he told Howard Stern on his Sirius radio show Monday.
“He was so much smarter than me, he had gone to Princeton, he was working at American Heritage as a book editor, and it was so inconceivable to me,” Cooper said.
Asked by Stern if the incident still shapes his life, Cooper replied, “Absolutely. It forms everything. It may not be the first thing [I think of in the morning], but there’s not a day goes by that I don’t think about it.”
Cooper also admitted that after the tragedy, he often worried if the same dark tendencies might also be buried deep inside himself.
“I don’t worry about it any more, but I certainly did at the time,” he said.
Although Carter jumped to his death right in front of his mother, Anderson doesn’t think it was meant to be a personal slap in her face.
“I think he had this impulse that he could not contain,” he told Stern. “She was just there. He had woken up from a nap and was disoriented and ran to her room and said, ‘What’s going on, what’s going on?’ Then he ran to his room on the second floor and went out onto the ledge.”
No drugs or alcohol were found in Carter’s system, and he’d only begun to see a therapist for depression a month prior. Cooper says that to this day, the family still doesn’t understand why he did it.
“With suicide,” said Cooper, “we like to think that it’s this clear thing, and it’s not – and that’s the horrible thing about suicide. The family members are left for their entire lives wondering why. Sometimes there isn’t any why.”