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On January 29 of 1960, the Carangis embraced their first baby girl; they named her Gia Marie Carangi and from the day she was born she was special. Gia's brother, Joe, remembers in an interview for the E! True Hollywood Story, "She had a special place being a girl. She had a little canopy bed with the dolls all over the place. She was an average little girl, that’s how I remember her."Gia Carangi grew up in the outskirts of Philadelphia, where her father, Joe, owned a string of hoagie shops. Her mother, Kathleen took care of the kids. Despite the normal family appearances, their home-life was turbulent. Gia’s parents argued constantly, "Gia and I used to sit on top of the steps every night and listen to them fight, and we hated it," said her brother Michael Carangi. By 1971, Kathleen moved out, leaving her husband and her children; Gia was only eleven.
For Gia, who was extremely close to her mother, Kathleen's actions were heartbreaking. Though Gia wanted her parents back together, Kathleen remarried a year later, shattering any hopes that Gia would ever have a normal family life again. Gia's early teens were anything but ideal. She bounced between two households, and received very little attention from the people around her, which meant that – with no discipline - she was able to do whatever she wanted. It was at this time that Gia met a teenager named Karen Karuza; they later became best friends. "When I first met her it was just her father and her two brothers, and her father owned some hoagie shops so he worked a lot. She then went to go live with her mother. She had this bouncing around family situation and back and fourth and whatever," Karen told on an interview for ABC. Inevitably, Gia felt abandoned. "There was a lot kind of going on inside her, she was very street-smart, but there was a lot of pain and it all kind of comes out and you can feel it. And there was just a lot of feeling when you look at her."

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During her early teens, Gia broke curfews, experimented with alcohol, pills and marijuana – something that most would say was very common in the 70s. Gia worshipped David Bowie and identified with his rebellious side. With the Bowie kids, Gia found the family she was longing for. She went to concerts and hung out with the older crowd at gay clubs in downtown Philadelphia. Gia identified with Bowie and his worshipers because according to them, it was okay to be different, bisexual, and gay. Gia’s sexuality was the only thing about her she was certain of and most times, proud of. "She was very open about it. She was always kissing someone on the mouth or grabbing someone or whatever," says Karen. No one was more disappointed than Gia’s mom. She took Gia to counseling, but nothing worked.By her mid teens, Gia had developed a beautiful face and an incredible figure. Kathleen, certain that modeling could change her daughter, encouraged Gia to model.

At age seventeen Gia was discovered. Maurice Tannenbaum, who was at the time a hair-stylist and aspiring photographer remembers: "I saw her one night at the DCA, which was a club, and was reluctant to walk over to her, I was just taken by her and she was fascinated by the idea that I wanted to photograph her and she wanted to be photographed. You could see this raw beauty." Not long after, he took her to New York to try her luck there as a model. "She was very excited, very nervous, very, very nervous. She came with her mother but her mother stayed in a coffee shop while we went off to see Wilhelmina." Wilhelmina Cooper, a former model herself, ran a modeling agency in New York. She was so excited about Gia that she forgot to give her a contract.

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In early 1978, 18-year-old Gia packed her bags and moved to New York City. With Wilhelmina's push, Gia managed to rise to the top instantly, something that almost never happens in the fashion world. Photographers loved Gia's street-smart attitude wrapped in jeans and leather: "Gia reminded me of James Dean. She was very cool but she had a tremendous vulnerability," said photographer Andrea Blanch. Francesco Scavullo also remembers the first day Gia walked into his studio: "There’s only been maybe 3 girls in my whole career that have walked into my studio and I went 'wow'. Gia was the last who came in here and I said 'wow.'" Gia was said to have had the most beautiful breasts in the business and she needed no taping for the Cosmo covers.

By the end of 1978, she had already appeared in several magazines (including American Vogue ) and was making something in the hundreds of thousands of dollars. But still, Gia, who was still 18 at the time, was looking for stability in her life. Gia was looking for love and compassion at a time when people were looking for sex, money, and drugs. In her search for loving and stable relationships, Gia fell instantly in love with people she barely knew. She felt incredibly lonely and even asked her brother Michael to go live with her in New York City. Model Julie Foster remembers in her interview for the E! True Hollywood Story, "She was looking for anyone's love, she would show up at my house sometimes in the middle of the night and I'd let her in and she just wanted someone to hug her. It was very sad." Gia Carangi was a regular at the hottest clubs in New York City. In the 1970s cocaine was the in drug – it was not only pulled out at nightclubs, but practically in every fashion studio to keep the models up and working later. At first, Gia was strictly using drugs for recreation. Model Kelly Lebrok explains, "Gia, when I was working with her, was still sort of in the beginning, still very fresh and lovely, uhm, I think drowning a little bit in her own success, but not anymore screwed up than anybody else was in the set."

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Gia's image was a perfect match for fashion photographer Chris Von Wangenheim, who was well-known for his "violent, off-colored fashion layouts." In October of 1978, Wangenheim and Gia collaborated on a project for Vogue Magazine. The photographer asked Gia if she would stay after the shoot so that he could do some nude photography with her. He also asked well-known make-up artist Sandy Linter to hang around. Gia took her clothes off and posed for the camera standing nude behind a chain-linked fence.

Gia fell in love with Linter and the two started a romance that became the talk of the fashion business. "She sent flowers to me, and she really sort of courted me, which I thought was adorable. Eventually I did go out with her. She's the type of person at that time, and anyone who knew her at the time can tell you, if she showed up on your doorsteps and you opened the door and she got in your apartment she was there, that’s it," Sandy explained. To Gia’s disappointment, her romance with Sandy sputtered on and off again for months until it had nowhere else to go.

In January of 1980, Gia's mentor and agent, 40-year old Wilhelmina Cooper, was diagnosed with lung-cancer. Gia was devastated and as a result, turned to drugs. A month later in a photo shoot in the Caribbean, fashion editor Sean Byrnes, detected Gia's drug abuse: "In the rough ocean everything is splashing and crashing around on this little boat and cabin cruiser and I find this little package on the floor, I look at it and I say 'uhmm, not good,' so I throw it overboard and then the poopoo hits the fan on the island because she doesn’t have her drugs." Gia ended up crying and very upset to the point where Scavullo literally had to lay on the bed with her until she fell asleep. On the right is snapshot of Gia on the boat on the way to the Caribbean.

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One month after Gia returned to New York, Wilhelmina died. At the funeral, agents approached Gia with new contract deals. In the Spring of 1980, Gia found the perfect escape to deal with Wilhelmina’s death – Heroin. Gia loved heroin so much because it made her forget her problems. She quickly fell into this dangerous routine which was becoming common among fashion insiders because being beautiful and of the moment meant having whatever she pleased. The fashion social scene offered easy temptations to ward off unhappiness. It was a time when drugs were taking people to very dark places and some of them didn’t come out of it.

Photographers began suspecting Gia’s behavior was due to drug abuse. "We all were aware that Gia was on drugs, it wasn't a secret, but nobody discussed it, I never discussed it with her," said photographer Francesco Scavullo in his ABC interview. Truth is that a lot of the people in the business were taking drugs, the whole era was out of control. And as an out-of-control drug user, Gia was going to galleries to shoot heroin. Photographer Michael Tighe remembers, "My impression of Gia as a person was spoiled, very aloof, she had this really wild energy. She was on some levels disrespectful to me." According to Tighe, shooting heroin was still considered very taboo at that time and you had to keep quiet about it. But in Gia's case, the problem was becoming more obvious. She'd walk out on shoots, show up late, stoned, or not at all and they would put up with her if they thought they could get that photograph out of her. The November 1980 issue of Vogue shows how far Gia’s addiction had gone. The issue features photos of Gia sporting track marks in her arm. The layout is called The Start Of Something Pretty... and was shot by Scavullo with makeup by Sandy Linter (Sandra according to Vogue). In some pictures the track marks in her arms are clearly visible. The following quote is from Stephen Fried's book, "In a number of the shots - which were of bathing suits and summerwear - there were visible, red bumps in the crooks of her elbows, track marks." "I remember when those pictures came in," remembers an insider. "There was a big scene in the art department." The shots were edited and airbrushed to minimize the obvious, ..."

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In November of 1980, Gia left the Wilhelmina Agency and signed with Eileen Ford. But Ford didn’t tolerate Gia’s erratic behavior and after three weeks they dropped Gia.

Not long after, in February of 1981, Gia vanished from the New York fashion industry with the hope of getting her life back together and get clean. Karen Karuza remembers that time, "I was in a night club with a boyfriend of mine and somebody had a cropped down neck and I looked over and this woman had her head down with this hair and she lifted her head up and it was Gia. She was just so strung out totally, and she didn’t recognize me but I recognized her and it was really unpleasant."

Tired and ill, Gia enrolled in a 21-day heroin detox program. That Winter, she fell into a relationship with a 20-year old heroin addicted college student. It’s been said that the girlfriend was even more heavily into drugs than Gia was. "I always suspected that "Rochelle" was into heroin, she even offered me some at one state and I said 'not for me.' That was a very wild on and off relationship for years," Michael Carangi told E!. Under Rochelle’s influence, Gia slipped even further away from recovery. In the Spring of 1981, 21-year old Gia was arrested for drunk-driving and later she was caught stealing from family and friends. In June, Gia left her mom’s house and moved in with friends. Once again, Gia enrolled into a drug detox program. But her attempt at sobriety was cut short by news that close friend photographer Chris Von Wangenheim, was killed in a car accident. It was the excuse Gia was looking for to go on a binge; she locked herself in her bathroom and spent hours shooting heroin.

After years of drug abuse, Gia's hand was scarred by an ugly abscess, her arms were covered with track marks and her back was covered with cists. In the fall of 1981, Gia was struggling with another drug-treatment program and putting on weight. Still, she was determined to beat her heroin addiction and return to New York. Gia contacted Monique Pillard: "She was sitting in my chair and I said, 'Gia, I want to represent you so badly and everything, but I hear a lot of negative stories about you.' And I remember I asked her 'well, why are you wearing such a long shirt? Can I see your arms?' And she said 'No!' And she held on to her shirt and she said to me, 'Do you want to represent me or not?'"

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Despite her worries, Monique signed Gia, who worked hard to convince the skeptics by continuing her drug treatment program in Philadelphia and commuting to New York only when jobs were available. Still, getting a gig was tough so Gia turned to friend photographer Francesco Scavullo. He gave her a Cosmo cover. Shot in the winter of 1982 that, April issue of Cosmo would be Gia's last magazine cover. "It made me very sad, I had a tough time that day because I really wanted it to be her best cover and it wasn't; it just couldn't be. No matter how hard I tried it just couldn't happen. That wonderful spirit she had was gone, ' says Scavullo. It was said that Gia's arms were tucked behind her back in order to conceal the track marks, Scavullo denies the rumors saying that she sat in that position to hide a little bit of the weight she had gained.

Gia's condition was evident behind the scenes of an appearance on a 1982 "20/20" story about supermodels. She said she wasn’t using drugs, but how she looked and sounded proved otherwise. She was offered $10.000/week to do catalog work abroad, but soon no one wanted to work with her. Monique Pillard remembers: "One instance when she was working in New York at a studio and the photographer called me up and said 'Come and get her, I am throwing her out of the studio. She fell asleep in front of the set and she burned her chest with the cigarette.'" Finally, in the Spring of 1983, Gia was caught with drugs on a shoot in North Africa and sent packing – Gia's career was over.

After pressure from her family, Gia entered a rehab program at Eagleville Hospital in Montgomery County. She declared herself indigent and was on welfare. At Eagleville, a fellow patient named Rob Fay (photo) became an important new friend to Gia. "The relationships that you start there, you start bare naked and it's a whole brand new life there. She was really the only person I was real close to at the time. I remember one time we saw an old couple holding hands, it really touched her that those people had spent their whole lives together and still loved each other and cared about each other. She would pick up on things like that."

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After six months of treatment Gia left Eagleville Hospital and stayed in suburban Philadelphia. She got a job selling jeans at the King of Prussia Mall mall and worked as a cashier in a local supermarket. She took courses at a community college and developed an interest in photography and cinematography. However, three months after leaving rehab, Gia vanished once again. "She disappeared and nobody could find her," says Rob. "I hadn’t seen her for three weeks and usually when somebody disappears, they've either gone back to their old addictions, which is real common, or committed suicide, it's usually a really horrible reason you don't see them anymore."

Gia had gone back to Atlantic City and started shooting again. She slept with men for money to buy drugs and was raped several times. When she suddenly became sick her mother came and took her to a hospital. Gia had pneumonia when she checked in and further tests confirmed she had AIDS.

As Gia's condition deteriorated, she was admitted to Philadelphia's Hahnemann Hospital. There, for months, Gia had what friends say she always wanted – her mother Kathleen's undivided attention. But by this point AIDS had ravaged Gia's body; she was dehydrated and suffered from vaginal bleeding.

At the time, Gia's mother Kathleen did not allow anyone to go into the hospital and visit Gia, so a lot of people didn't know Gia was seriously ill. One person that was allowed in, however, was Rob Fay: "Kathleen had done a very good job at making it look like a home because she had been in that hospital room for so long. The last time I saw Gia she couldn't talk, I knew that she was dying."

In a matter of weeks, Gia's health rapidly deteriorated and she was put on a respirator. The damages that AIDS had done to her body were so terrifying that even the funeral director recommended it be a closed-casket. On November 18, 1986, 26-year old Gia Carangi died.

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On November 21, 1986, relatives and friends were invited to attend Gia's funeral services. She was laidOn November 21, 1986, relatives and friends were invited to attend Gia's funeral services. She was laid to rest at Sunset Memorial Park in Feasterville, PA. The industry in which she once had been so famous, so fast, had no idea she was even gone. Even in her own hometown people didn't know the end of her story. Most people who knew her had no idea she was dead until a year later. Everything was kept very quiet because the family was traumatized, and to say that a woman died of AIDS in 1986 was just unheard of, so it was never mentioned.

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Quotes taken from The E! True Hollywood Story, ABC's Vanished, The Oprah Show, Extra, Hard Copy, Entertainment Tonight and the book Fashion Theory.


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