Anderson Cooper's Amazing Childhood: Studio 54 at Age 11 and Liza Minnelli Making House Calls

Anderson Cooper credits mom Gloria Vanderbilt with helping him realize that "my ideas mattered just as much as anybody else's"

Photo: Jeff Riedel

Growing up as a member of the famed Vanderbilt family, Anderson Cooper didn’t exactly have the white picket fence upbringing of his peers.

While other moms stayed home baking cookies, Gloria Vanderbilt designed jeans that enraptured a nation while sneaking her sons into Studio 54 and hosting dinner parties with guests who would make your jaws drop.

Looking back, Anderson has few regrets about his formative years, and credits his mother and late father – author Wyatt Cooper – with helping him realize the “possibilities of one’s imagination.”

“If famous people were coming over to the house, like Charlie Chaplin or Truman Capote, we would be sitting at the table next to them,” Anderson, 48, says in a recent interview with PEOPLE and Entertainment Weekly editorial director Jess Cagle, while sitting alongside his mom. “There wasn’t a kids’ table. We weren’t sort of shunted off somewhere. We would be expected to kind of learn about who was coming and watch their movies and be able to converse with them.”

Anderson, who stars in the upcoming HBO documentary Nothing Left Unsaid: Gloria Vanderbilt and Anderson Cooper with his mom, and also penned an upcoming book about their poignant email exchanges, The Rainbow Comes and Goes: A Mother and Son on Life, Love and Loss, said that while his mother didn’t fit the mold of the typical mom, he rarely minded.

Watch more of The Jess Cagle Interview with Anderson Cooper and Gloria Vanderbilt all this week on

“In many ways, she was amazing as a mom because she was completely different from any other mom that I knew,” he says. “There were times I wanted a more conventional mom. There were times I’d go to friends’ houses and I’d see they had bagels in the kitchen and food and cakes and stuff and their mothers knew everything that was going on in their lives, knew who all their friends were, knew their comings and goings.

“My mom was not involved in my life that way. But, that idealization of other people’s moms would last a very short time. I would start to feel smothered and would be eager to go back to my house because my mom was much more creative and interesting and unconventional,” he continued.

One interesting thing he was exposed to early on?

“Few people’s moms take them to Studio 54 when they’re 11 years old and see Grace Jones perform. We went twice, actually,” he says, noting with a laugh that the trips were “probably illegal.”

Whether observing glamorous nightlife in New York City, or conversing with high-profile house guests including Liza Minnelli and Diana Vreeland, the television journalist says the exposure had a lifelong impact on him.

“I think I’m the person I am because at a young age I believed that I was equal to anybody coming in the house and that I could make conversation with anybody coming in the house and my ideas mattered just as much as anybody else’s,” he says.

And it wasn’t until adulthood that he realized how lucky he was to grow up in a famous family while exchanging ideas with some of the most creative minds of the times.

“It didn’t seem that unusual,” he admits. “I mean, I think if you’re raised in a forest, you think everybody lives in a forest. It didn’t seem that unusual. It just seemed like, ‘Oh, that’s what happens.’ And it’s only until later on that you realize, ‘Oh, wait a minute, not everybody has this. This is an amazing privilege and it was an incredible experience.’ “

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