Anderson Cooper says the deaths of his dad, brother 'changed' him: 'I felt like I couldn't speak the same language as other people'

Anderson Cooper is getting vulnerable about loss and grief.

On the first episode of the CNN anchor’s new podcast, All There Is with Anderson Cooper, the journalist, 55, visits the New York City apartment of his late mother Gloria Vanderbilt, where he spent much of his childhood.

While rummaging through his mother's old things, he can’t help but get emotional when reflecting on the many memories — good and bad — he shared with his family in the home.

“This place has a lot of memories for me,” he explained in the first episode, which dropped on Tuesday. “A lot of memories of people who are no longer here. Just coming here, frankly, is hard.”

Vanderbilt, a legendary fashion designer, artist and great-great-grandaughter of railroad and shipping tycoon Cornelius Vanderbilt, died at 95 years old in June 2019. Though she lived a long, full life, it came rife with extreme loss.

Vanderbilt and Cooper both suffered the loss of her fourth husband, Wyatt Cooper, Anderson’s dad, who died of a heart attack when Anderson was 10 years old. Then, when Anderson was 20, came the traumatic loss of Vanderbilt's son and Anderson's older brother, Carter, who died by suicide when he jumped out of his mother's penthouse window while she was "begging him not to" — a violent scene that still haunts Anderson to this day.

“Both of their deaths really changed me forever,” he said of losing his dad and brother. “I feel like a shadow of the person I was or was meant to be. After the shock of my dad’s death, I withdrew deep into myself. And 10 years later, when my brother died, I went deeper still.”

He says one of the ways he escaped his grief was by leaving his environment altogether.

“I felt like I couldn’t speak the same language as other people, and I ended up heading to Somalia and Bosnia and South Africa and Rwanda, places where the language of loss was spoken and the pain that I was feeling inside was matched by the pain all around me,” he explained. “I think that’s how I learned how to survive, but still I find it hard to talk about my dad and my brother. It’s been 34 years since Carter’s suicide and the violence of it, the horror of it, it stuns me still.”

When reflecting on how his mother handled the losses, Cooper couldn’t help but credit her strength.

“My mom, she never asked, ‘Why me?’ ‘Why did this happen to me?’ She would always say, ‘Why not me?’ Why should we be exempt from the pain of living and losing?’” he said. “That term ‘survivor’ to me always implies that brassy ballsy cabaret singer belting out ‘I’m still here, damn it!’ and yet that wasn’t her. She was a survivor but that’s not how she survived at all. It didn’t morph her into something harder.”

While Vanderbilt’s outlook on death may have been more optimistic than Cooper’s, he says the whole point of making the podcast, which will speak to people about their own journeys with grief and loss in upcoming episodes, is to find new ways to heal and grow.

His pursuit towards healing increased after he had his two sons Wyatt, 2, and 7-month-old Sebastian, both of whom were welcomed via surrogate.

“As a new parent of these two adorable sweet and joy-filled boys, I don’t want them to ever see in me what I sometimes saw in my mom,” he explained. “I don’t want them to see shadows of loss and grief hiding somewhere deep behind my eyes like I did with my mom. When my kids look in my eyes I want them to see my love for them reflected back, and that’s it. That’s what I want them to see. I want them to feel that stability, to know they’re in good hands and to know they’re loved.”

As anything in life, however, getting there is a journey.

“Ever since my dad died, my strategy such as it is has always been to keep stuff inside, to figure out problems in my head and work through them and then just move forward without talking about it. And it’s worked, sort of,” he said. “I mean it’s certainly helped me barrel through some pretty rough moments, but I’ve been in enough therapy to know that there are a lot healthier ways to handle feelings and I’m definitely open to new ideas.”

“That’s what I’m trying to do in this podcast,” he continued. “I want to learn from others about how not just to survive, but how to thrive, as cliché as that might sound.”

Cooper is certainly one proud papa. Soon after Wyatt's birth, which he announced on his CNN show Anderson Cooper 360, he explained the nuances of experiencing the joys of fatherhood while simultaneously dealing with the grief of losing a loved one.

“It has been a difficult time in all of our lives, and there are certainly many hard days ahead,” he said at the time. “It is, I think, especially important in these times of trouble to try to hold on to moments of joy and moments of happiness. Even as we mourn the loss of loved ones, we are also blessed with new life and new love.”

Both Wyatt and his brother Sebastian are being co-parented by Cooper and his former partner, Benjamin Maisani, who is currently in the process of adopting both children.

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