Anderson Cooper 360°, a fast-paced weeknight news program, affords Anderson the platform to address the issues facing Americans today. He's faced quite a few himself. Born into a family of wealth and fame, watching his father die during open heart surgery after a series of heart attacks, and living through the tragedy of losing his older brother to suicide brought Anderson to a better understanding of loss and survival. He chronicled his stories in his best-seller Dispatches from the Edge.
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Anderson Cooper is the younger son of writer Wyatt Emory Cooper and artist, designer, writer, and railroad heiress Gloria Vanderbilt. By his mother, he is the great-great-great grandson of railroad magnate Cornelius Vanderbilt.
After a series of heart attacks, his father died while undergoing open-heart surgery at the age of 50. This is said to have affected the young Cooper "enormously." In retrospect, he has said, "I think I'm a lot like my father in several ways," including "that we look a lot alike and that we have a similar sense of humor and a love of storytelling."
Cooper's older brother, Carter, took his own life at age 23, by jumping from the 14th floor terrace of Vanderbilt's New York City penthouse apartment. Carter's suicide is apparently what sparked Anderson to become a journalist: "Loss is a theme that I think a lot about, and it's something in my work that I dwell on. I think when you experience any kind of loss, especially the kind I did, you have questions about survival: Why do some people thrive in situations that others can't tolerate? Would I be able to survive and get on in the world on my own?"
Cooper attended The Dalton School in New York City and graduated from Yale University in 1989 with a BA in Political Science. After Cooper graduated from Yale University, he tried unsuccessfully to gain entry-level employment with ABC answering telephones. He instead took a job as fact-checker for the much smaller Channel One. After six months, Cooper decided that he wanted to switch to reporting, but "figured if I told anyone, they wouldn't give me the chance...I quit my job and moved overseas and started shooting with my own video camera. I figured if I put myself in situations where there weren't many Americans around and I shot little stories, then I could sell them to Channel One. I wanted to make it impossible for them to not put me on air...I had a friend of mine make a fake press pass on a Macintosh, and I snuck into Burma and hooked up with some students fighting the Burmese government. After reporting from Burma, Cooper lived in Vietnam for a year and then returned to filming stories from a variety of war-torn regions around the globe, including Somalia, Bosnia and Rwanda.
Haunted by his brother's suicide, Anderson explains, "The only thing I really knew is that I was hurting and needed to go someplace where the pain outside matched the pain I was feeling inside." Cooper describes himself as having become "fascinated with conflict" during this dangerous period of his life in which he was occasionally shot at. While "witnessing history" was an incentive for him to report from such locales, "I also found that I felt that the molecules in the air were different. In all the places where there was conflict it was sort of a highly charged atmosphere and there was something about it that appealed to me. I found I was very interested in issues of survival and why some people survive and others don't. I wanted to see first-hand. I felt very comfortable in those places."
In 1995, Cooper became a correspondent for ABC News, eventually rising to the position of co-anchor of ABC World News Now. In 2001, he joined CNN to anchor alongside Paula Zahn on American Morning. In 2002 he became CNN's weekend prime time anchor.
Since 2002, he has hosted CNN's New Year's Eve special from Times Square. On September 8, 2003 he was made anchor of Anderson Cooper 360°, a fast-paced weeknight news program. Describing his philosophy as an anchor, Cooper has said: "I think the notion of traditional anchor is fading away, the all-knowing, all-seeing person who speaks from on high. I don't think the audience really buys that anymore. As a viewer, I know I don't buy it. I think you have to be yourself, and you have to be real and you have to admit what you don't know, and talk about what you do know, and talk about what you don't know as long as you say you don't know it. I tend to relate more to people on television who are just themselves, for good or for bad, than I do to someone who I believe is putting on some sort of persona."
Cooper is a current contributing editor of Details magazine. In May 2006 his book Dispatches from the Edge, was released and has recently topped the New York Times Bestseller list. The book details his "life as a journalist and human being in Sri Lanka, Africa, Iraq and Louisiana/Mississippi." Most of Cooper's proceeds are being donated to charity.
In addition, Cooper has been interviewed by Oprah Winfrey several times, and is often used as a sort of "special correspondent" for her show. His awards include: National Headliners Award for his tsunami coverage; Emmy Award for his contribution to ABC's coverage of Princess Diana's funeral; Silver Plaque from the Chicago International Film Festival for his report from Sarajevo on the Bosnian civil war; Bronze Telly for his coverage of famine in Somalia; Bronze Award from the National Educational Film and Video Festival for a report on political Islam; GLAAD Media Award for Outstanding TV Journalism for his 20/20 Downtown report on high school athlete Corey Johnson.