Disclaimer: This article discuses and features drug Abuse, mental illness, and nudity.
Who was Gia Carangi?
At 17, she was leading the fashion industry. By 26 she was dead. Gia Carangi; often known as the world’s first supermodel; was an American model that dominated her industry from 1978 to 1983. She modelled for highly respected luxury brands such as YSL, Armani, Dior and Versace amongst others. Her high-paced, so-called glamorous life and career came to a tragic halt in 1986, when Gia Carangi died of complications related to AIDS.
Early Life and Family
Gia Marie Carangi was born on January 28, 1960 in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania to working class parents of Italian descent. Her parent’s turbulent and tumultuous marriage ended in divorce when she was all of 11 years old. While her 2 older brothers left to live with their mother, Gia stayed back and spent the rest of her adolescence with her father. This would only be the beginning of her years-long estrangement from her mother. Her parent’s broken marriage and financial instability would be, what some who knew her, would blame for her subsequent drug abuse and depression in later years.
Gia’s modelling career began in 1976, at the age of 16, when a photographer by the name of Maurice Tannenbaum saw her dancing at a local Philadelphia nightclub. She was then featured in local Philadelhia newsprint ads.
At the tender age of 17, she moved to New York City, where she signed with ‘Wilhelmina Models,’ the most powerful and reputed modelling agency at the time. In fact, it was Wilhelmina Cooper, the company’s founder and namesake that signed her personally.
Being backed by the most powerful modelling agency in the world opened a lot of doors for Gia Carangi. Almost overnight, every photographer, magazine and clothing brand in the world wanted to work with her.
Fashion is not art. Fashion isn’t even culture. Fashion is advertising, and advertising is money. And for every dollar you earn, someone has to pay.Gia Carangi
Studio 54, Drug Abuse, Decline
It’s universally known that almost everyone in the fashion industry in the 1980s experimented with drugs. Gia Carangi, being one of the biggest models of her time, was a regular at Studio 54. It was here that she got her first taste of cocaine. She later graduated to using heroin, both by needle and snorting.
Her drug addiction eventually became so extreme that scandalous stories of Gia Carangi showing up to photoshoots high and walking out of important events began making the rounds throughout the industry.
One of the most popular stories about her drug fuelled escapades was that she reportedly wrote the misspelled phrase “Get Heroine” in one of her appointment books.
Eventually, her addiction caught up with her, and photographers stopped requesting her for work. Not only was she unable to get through work without “bathroom breaks,” but her arms were extensively scarred from the heroin needles, so much so that they had to be airbrushed out of professional pictures.
A Failed Comeback
The shots from one of her last fashion magazine covers, Cosmopolitan Magazine, reportedly required extensive airbrushing and editing to remove the red bumps and scars from her arms.
Finally, she was told to place her arms behind her back to hide all evidence of her struggles completely. The final magazine cover seems almost indicative of her lifestyle, foreboding of her terrible fate, still yet to come.
Wanting to get better, she attempted rehab multiple times, and was given second chances by many of her fashion colleagues. However, she simply couldn’t manage to kick her addiction. Modelling was over for Gia.
What she was doing to herself finally became apparent in her pictures. … I could see the change in her beauty. There was an emptiness in her eyes.Sean Byrnes, assistant to ‘Francesco Scavullo’, a famous photographer of the time
While trying to overcome her addiction, she slept on the couches of several friends and lovers, while working much less glamorous jobs than a luxury fashion model. A cafeteria checkout clerk. A salesgirl at a shopping mall, selling jeans.
Health, Homelessness, and HIV
In May 1981, Gia Carangi required emergency surgery on her left hand. She had injected heroin in the same spot too many times, which created “an open infected tunnel leading into her veins.”
By 1985, she was back on drugs, and supported herself as a prostitute in Atlantic City. Later that year, she was diagnosed with AIDS, which was most probably acquired from shared heroin needles.
In 1986, she was admitted to a hospital after being found on a street corner, badly beaten and raped by a homeless man. It was also discovered that she had been sleeping in the rain for days.
On November 18, 1986, exactly one month after being hospitalised, the infamous supermodel Gia Carangi died of complications related to AIDS.
Her physical condition had deteriorated to such an atrocious state, that when her lifeless body was lifted from the hospital bed to be transported to the funeral home, the skin on her back reportedly began to fall off.
Her funeral was attended by a few close family members and relatives. No one from the fashion industry was in attendance.
You don’t have to be anybody… because I would know, being somebody doesn’t make you anybody anyway.Gia Carangi
She disappeared just as quickly as she came.