Life and death
energy and peace
if I stopped today
it was fun.
Even the terrible pains that have burned me and scarred
my soul it was worth it for having been allowed to
walked where I’ve walked. Which was to hell on earth
heaven on earth, back again, into, under, far in between
and above it.
– Gia Carangi (1986)
The death of supermodel Gia Carangi went unreported by the press. Five days later, her funeral was a quiet affair, attended only by her immediate family, with a closed casket recommended for the woman whose exquisite face and fabulous figure had once stunned the fashion world. None of the photographers who had clamoured to capture her, or the fashionistas who excitedly watched her strut down a catwalk were there, or even knew she had died. She was certainly not the first young woman destroyed by the glamorous but notoriously fickle modelling industry, but as one fashion insider later remarked, ‘There were a lot of girls who were victims of those times — the night life, Studio 54, dancing, having fun. There were girls who took a lot of coke and destroyed their beauty, but I don’t think Gia was one of those. I think she was a victim of herself.’
Born in Philadelphia on 29th January 1960, Gia’s early life had been wrought by the unhappy marriage of her parents, Joseph Carangi, an Italian restaurateur and his wife Kathleen, who was of Welsh and Irish descent. Gia was their youngest child of three and their only daughter, although Joseph also had a son from a previous marriage. In 1971, Kathleen left the family home for good and later remarried, seeing her children at fairly irregular intervals much to the distress of her daughter, who was never able to overcome her sense of abandonment, as a friend recalled, ‘The one person Gia always wanted something from was her mother – and she just never felt like she got it.’ As well as her mother’s departure, Gia eventually revealed that she had been molested at the age of five, an experience that left her traumatised.
After being discovered by a local photographer whilst working in one of her father’s restaurants, Gia appeared in several advertisements in Philadelphia before moving to New York in 1978. Gia was signed by Wilhelmina Models straight away, with the agency’s owner Wilhelmina Cooper, who would become her mentor, enraptured by her ‘fantastically pliable face.’ One of Gia’s first assignments was for Vogue with the photographer Chris von Wangenheim in October 1978.