The Cooper family

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Anderson and his older brother Carter grew up as part of "American royalty." His father was famed author and screenwriter Wyatt Cooper, and his mother is heiress, artist and designer Gloria Vanderbilt.

"There were statues of my great-great-great grandfather [Cornelius] in New York," he says. "I actually thought as a kid that everyone's grandparents turned into a statue when they died." The Vanderbilt family is one of the most famous families of the "Gilded Age." The family amassed their wealth during the expansion of U.S. railroads, and family members were known both for their extravagant lifestyles and their prominent charitable donations.

Despite this high-profile upbringing, Anderson says his parents kept them very grounded, and he didn't quite realize how famous his family was. Instead, he says his life was filled with regular kid things. "My brother and I used to wear costumes all the time," Anderson says. "We were obsessed with military history and so he was always running around in a knight costume and I was wearing a beefeater's hat like a British soldier."

This innocence did not last. When Anderson was 10 years old, his father died during an open-heart surgery operation. "Suddenly the world seemed a very scary place," he says. "In many ways the person that I was seemed to disappear then, and sort of this new person was formed out of that."
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FROM: CNN's Anderson Cooper Reveals His Family Secrets
Published on May 23, 2006

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