Many consider Gia Carangi to be the first supermodel. Born today in 1960 in Philidelphia, Carangi was the third and youngest of two brothers. Her parents didn’t get along (to put it mildly) and her mother left the family when Carangi was eleven years old. Many people believe this was the root to Carangi’s drug problems later in life.
Becoming friends with the “Bowie kids” in high school, Carangi found a sort of home in David Bowie’s fashion sense, androgny, and bisexuality. Some friends compared Carangi to Cay from the movie Desert Hearts in terms of her approach to her sexuality.
Carangi moved to New York City when she was seventeen and signed on with Wilhelmina Models. October 1978 published her first major shoot with Chris von Wangenheim, where she posed naked with makeup artist, Sandy Linter. Carangi was deeply infatuated with Linter and though there was a relationship between them, it was never something that lasted.
This first shoot led Carangi to stardom, Vogue calling her rise to such, “meteoric”. She appeared in many fashion magazines including Vogue UK, Vogue Paris, American Vogue, Vogue Italia, and Cosmopolitan and campaigns for Armani, Versace, and Christian Diora among others. Many notable fashion photographers including Francesco Scavullo, Richard Avedon, and Marco Glaviano loved to work with her and similar to Beyonce and Prince, Carangi became so famous, she was known just by her first name: Gia.
After the death of her agent and mentor, Wilhelmina Cooper, Carangi, already an avid cocaine club user, led to her heroin addiction. This led to her inability to work well: she became violent, would leave to get more drugs, and sometimes even fell asleep while working. Carangi left Wilhelmina for Ford Models in November 1990 but was fired after a few weeks. As her offers stopped coming in, her friends and lovers, such as Sandy Linter, stopped talking to her because they feared her ruin would hurt their careers.
Carangi went back to her father and step-mother in Philadelphia in Febrauary 1981 and did a 21 detox program. But she was arrested in March of that same year and drove into a fence in a neighborhood.There was a police chase and after she was apprehended, they learned she was intoxicated and under the influence of cocaine. After being released, she signed on with Legends and worked in Europe for some time.
Later in the same year, Carangi attempted to make a comeback by signing with Elite Model Management. Many people weren’t interested in working with her, but she was put on the cover of Cosmopolitan photographed by Francesco Scavullo, her last time on an American magazine. She mainly worked with Albert Watson and appeared in some catalogs while she worked an outpatient meth program. Soon she began using heroin again. She was sent home from a shoot for using, and 1983 is the last time she’d leave New York ever again.
In December 1984, she went to an intense drug treatment program at Eagleville Hospital. After treatment, she worked at a clothing store, then as a check out clerk, then as a cafeteria worker in a nursing home before she started to use drugs again in late 1985.
Carangi was admitted to Warminster General Hospital for bilateral pneumonia in June 1986. She was diagnosed with AIDS-related complex. She was admitted again on October 18, to Hahnemann University Hopstial and at age twenty-six, died on November 18, 1986 of AIDS-related complex. Her funeral was on November 23, and many of the fashion world did not attend, though most of them didn’t know of her death until much later. Her friend, Francesco Scavullo, sent a Mass card a few weeks after the funeral when he heard the news.
There’s a straight to TV movie starring Angelina Jolie as Gia Carangi and Elizabeth Mitchell as Sandy Litner called Gia.