Vanderbilt was born in New York City on February 20, 1924 to one of the wealthiest families in America.
Her father was railroad heir Reginald Claypoole Vanderbilt, the great-grandson of Cornelius Vanderbilt who built the New York Central Railroad, who died when she was 18 months old. Her mother was his second wife, 19-year-old Gloria Morgan.
When Vanderbilt was 10 years old, she found herself in the center of the “custody battle of the century” between her aunt Gertrude Vanderbilt Whitney (founder of New York City’s Whitney Museum) and her mother. The trial became a media sensation, earning her the nickname “poor little rich girl.”
Her aunt eventually won custody after revealing in the case that Vanderbilt’s mother was a lesbian and painted her as an unfit mother.
Vanderbilt is pictured being escorted home from Palm Sunday services at Church of St. Francis of Assisi in New York City.
The heiress was primarily raised by her grandmother “Naney” and her beloved nanny “Dodo” after her father died and her mother partied and traveled rather than tending to her daughter.
Gloria Vanderbilt pictured with her mother in Los Angeles.
As a teen, Vanderbilt traveled to Beverly Hills to reconnect with her mother for a visit that was supposed to last only two weeks. But two weeks in Los Angeles turned into months – and the trip eventually led her to meeting her first husband.
After dating Hollywood’s leading men throughout her high school years, she married agent (and rumored mobster) Pasquale “Pat” DeCicco in Santa Barbara, California at age 17.
“I was mesmerized,” she says. “He was forceful, domineering, and supremely sure of himself. When you have low self-esteem, as I did, those qualities are attractive.”
They divorced four years later.
Frank Sinatra was among the many famous men Gloria Vanderbilt was linked to. Here, they’re pictured at the Ambassador Hotel on New Years Eve 1954.
Vanderbilt married her second husband, orchestra conductor Leopold Stokowski in 1945; they were married for 10 years.
In 1956 she married for a third time, to Academy Award-winning director Sidney Lumet, pictured on their wedding day. They divorced in August 1963.
Among her many career endeavours, which included artist, fashion model, designer, poet and playwright, she appeared on stage, screen and television, seen here in costume for Ferenc Molnar’s play, The Swan.
In character alongside William Shatner on set an episode of the CBS series Studio One.
Vanderbilt poses with one of her paintings in New York City, in a dress matching the artwork.
Four months after divorcing her third husband, Sidney Lumet, Vanderbilt said “I do” to author and screenwriter Wyatt Emory Cooper, pictured.
She and Cooper welcomed two sons, Carter (right) in 1965 and Anderson (left) in 1967, pictured together in their New York City apartment.
“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 told PEOPLE about his unconventional upbringing, which Vanderbilt led alone after her husband died during open heart surgery in 1978. “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.”
Vanderbilt became a household name in the ’70s thanks to the creation of her “Perfect Fit” denim jeans. She’s pictured at Murjani, a garment company with whom she collaborated on her first collection.
Vanderbilt and publicist Bobby Zarem took the boys to the premiere of Woody Allen’s Manhattan at the famous Ziegfeld Theater.
Anderson and Carter obviously had front-row seats to their mother’s fashion show in N.Y.C.
In an undated image from the boys’ earlier days, Vanderbilt and her sons posed for a Condé Nast photo shoot.
The doting mom often took her sons out to events in New York City.
Surrounded by fellow fashion titans, Bob Mackie, Geoffrey Beene and Halston on an episode of Love Boat.
A casual shot of Vanderbilt and her beloved sons.
The happy family in an undated photo, out in New York City.
Poses with designer Ralph Lauren at the launch party for her book, The World Of Gloria Vanderbilt.
Seated in front of a piece of her artwork at her art exhibit at the Spoke Club in Toronto.
Vanderbilt pictured with Anderson and Andy Cohen on an episode of Watch What Happens Live to promote the memoir she and Anderson wrote together, The Rainbow Comes and Goes: A Mother and Son Talk About Life, Love, and Loss, which offers a rare glimpse into their special relationship via a collection of intimate email exchanges.
Cohen, who is also Cooper’s close friend, wrote a touching tribute to Vanderbilt on Instagram. “Gloria Vanderbilt was an amazing woman who lived a life filled with incredible peaks and impossible obstacles,” Cohen began.
“Through it all she remained eternally optimistic with a wicked sense of humor. In fact, Anderson’s iconic and infectious giggle comes from his mom.”