Anderson Cooper is still learning to live with the loss

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Anderson Cooper is still learning to live with the loss

For decades, Anderson Cooper, 56, has been a steady, humane and relatively calm presence on television news. But the longtime host of CNN’s “Anderson Cooper 360°” has recently entered an interesting and, in its own way, fruitful period of emotional and professional flux. It started last year with “All There Is With Anderson Cooper,” his grief podcast. (When Cooper was 10, his father, Wyatt, died of a heart attack; his older brother, Carter, died by suicide when they were both in their early 20s; his mother, Gloria Vanderbilt, died on 95 years old in 2019) so he realized how little he had allowed himself to feel the losses and how much more feeling he had to do. (Accordingly, a second season will air this fall.) He also spent time writing “Astor,” an upcoming nonfiction book about the legendary, dynastic American family that is a thematic follow-up to his best-selling 2021 book about a mother his legendary, dynastic American family, the Vanderbilts. (Both books were co-written with Kathryn Howe.) On top of that, he and his colleagues at CNN endured the short and tumultuous tenure of its chairman and CEO Chris Licht, who was fired in June after just 13 months on the job. “It all makes sense in my head,” Cooper says of the twists and turns in his career. “Although it might not make much sense on paper.”

Anderson Cooper, left, in 1972 with his father, Wyatt Cooper; his brother Carter; and his mother, Gloria Vanderbilt.

Jack Robinson/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

So, do you think how your children will understand the story of your losses? Oh, absolutely. I’m setting a record for them. [Cooper chokes up.] Excuse me.

Everything is fine. I don’t have it, but I had this book. I quite deliberately want to leave complete documentation, things that my children can touch throughout their lives and that their children, if they have them, can do too. God, what I wouldn’t give to have my father’s journals. My mother’s mother seemed shallow and my mother’s father was an alcoholic and died at 45 – so it didn’t seem very deep – but I would have loved their diaries. Even writing Vanderbilt for the first time made me feel like I was stepping on the story. I like feeling rooted, and I want my kids to have that feeling.

In one of the last episodes of the podcast, you say, “I chose not to be vulnerable for a long time, but I don’t think I want to anymore.” How has becoming a father affected your vulnerability? This is a really interesting question. What I’ve realized over the past few months is how little I’ve allowed myself to grieve over the deaths of my father and brother. I did what a lot of kids do: I buried it deep inside me. It’s just doing the podcast that I realized, Holy [expletive], I’m still that 10-year-old kid. In terms of acknowledging grief and sadness and allowing myself to be vulnerable, I don’t know exactly how to do that, but that’s what I want to learn. I could see that sadness behind my mother’s eyes. I don’t want my kids to see this in the back mine eyes. I do not want it be already behind my eyes.

I think the theme of your podcast and Dispatches from the Edge and The Rainbow Comes and Goes is trying to understand how you became the person you are. Loss is central to it. I think for many people, their understanding of who they desire and their sexuality is similarly formative. But in all your books I think there are only a few pages where you discuss your sexuality. Why is this a gap in the story you tell about becoming who you are? I hadn’t thought of it that way. I grew up with a very famous mother who was recognized on the streets, and I didn’t particularly like that as a child. After I started getting famous, I realized that I wanted to try to keep a little privacy. But I don’t think I have a particularly interesting story about being gay. I figured it out early, I fell in love, I didn’t really want to be gay, then I pretty quickly accepted it and embraced it, and it’s one of the great blessings of my life. Grief, loss, and the impulse to be around people who were suffering was a bigger unresolved driving force in my life than the gay thing.

I was going to say “undecided” is the key word. Unresolved things end up driving us more than the things we’ve come to terms with. yes I mean the fact that I’m 56 and I still realize that I was never sad when I was 11? This is funny. Maybe I can write a little essay about my gay – I don’t know what. The way of it? But I couldn’t write a book.

Cooper reporting on CNN’s “Anderson Cooper 360°” in Ghana in 2009.

Brent Stirton/CNN

Can a reporter from a well-known media be a blank slate? CNN and Fox News mean something in their own right, apart from the individual reporters. You’re right that some people view the Times as left-wing, view CNN as whatever they view CNN, Fox as whatever they view Fox, and that will define things. I also know there are people who base things more on the individual. There may be people who watch Jake Tapper because they believe he plays it straight and gives great interviews, but they won’t watch me. There are people who will watch one person on Fox News and not other people. So I don’t think you can paint with such a broad brush. Of course, more than in the past, people drew ideological caricatures of various brands and made decisions based on that.

That’s a problem, isn’t it? Yes, this is a problem. I mean, I read stuff in the paper, but I’m not sure what the point of it all was.

Cooper with Donald Trump during a CNN town hall in South Carolina days before the February 2016 Republican presidential primary.

Spencer Platt/Getty Images

If the Trump team called and said, “We’d like him to come on your show,” would you do it? I don’t know at this stage. I’m not sure. I personally would not choose to run a town hall. The town hall format is a specific format that CNN uses effectively for many candidates. I don’t think the first time Donald Trump came back on CNN — I wasn’t going to do a town hall and if he had said no I would have said well then he’s not on. But it’s not my choice. I wasn’t involved.

You said you play it “down the middle”. Is this approach to television news an anachronism? This is going to sound like a denial, but I don’t really care about any of that stuff.

This is the future of your work! How could you not be interested? You won’t believe my answer, but I’ll say it anyway: What interests me in my job is being able to visit different places and enter people’s lives. The business side of news — I used to worry about these things 20 years ago when I first started. I lay awake at night: “Do I have a future? What are my grades?” That was not sustainable for me. I don’t like that kind of pressure. For me, the solution was to focus on what I had control over: get better at interviews, improve my writing, stop saying “um”. I get all the business stuff. I just don’t care. do i have a future i am 56 years old. How much longer can I do this? I do not know. I fully expect that one day my services will no longer be needed or interesting and, as in Charlie Brown’s spelling bee, some voice will speak whoop whoop and then it will disappear from the screen. That’s the way of this world and I’ve been extremely lucky. So I’m not worried about the long-term trajectory.

This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity from two conversations.

David Marchese is a contributor to the magazine and a columnist for Talk. He recently interviewed Alok Vaid-Menon about ordinary transgender people, Joyce Carol Oates about immortality and Robert Downey Jr. about life after Marvel.

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