Note: This Philly born and raised
model is considered the first supermodel.
Marie Carangi (January 29, 1960, Philadelphia,
PA – November 18, 1986, Philadelphia,
PA) was an American fashion model during
the late 1970s and early 1980s. Carangi,
who was of Italian, Welsh and Irish ancestry,
was widely considered the first "Supermodel".
Cindy Crawford, who also appeared on the
covers of several fashion publications
during Gia's time, was later referred
to as "Baby Gia", due to her
resemblance to Gia. Carangi was also
the first to present unusual poses, facial
expressions and gestures. She is credited
by many at the upper echelons of fashion
to have created a new style of modeling,
emulated by models since then to the present.
Carangi was featured on the cover of many
fashion magazines, including Vogue, April
1, 1979; Vogue Paris, April 1979; American
Vogue, August 1980; Vogue Paris, August
1980; Italian Vogue, January 1981; and
several issues of Cosmopolitan between
1979 and 1982.
After becoming addicted to drugs, Carangi's
modeling career rapidly declined. She
later became infected with HIV and died
in Philadelphia. Her death was not widely
publicized and few people in the fashion
industry knew of it. Carangi is thought
to be one of the first famous women to
die of AIDS.
who was known in modeling circles just
by her first name, had a turbulent childhood.
Her parents fought frequently, and she
was given little attention.
Carangi moved from Philadelphia to New
York City at the age of 17, and quickly
rose to prominence. She was the favorite
model of many eminent fashion photographers,
including Francesco Scavullo, Arthur Elgort,
Richard Avedon, and Chris von Wangenheim,
and she posed for photos in many countries.
By the end of 1978, Carangi was already
a well-established model. Carangi did
modeling for these designer and cosmetic
firms: Body Basics, Christian Dior, Cutex,
Diane von Fürstenberg, Giorgio Armani,
Lancetti, Levi's, Maybelline, Perry Ellis,
Versace, Vidal Sassoon and Yves Saint
Carangi was a regular at Studio 54 and
the Mudd Club. Carangi usually only used
cocaine in clubs but later began to develop
a heroin addiction.
In October 1978, Carangi did her first
major shoot with top fashion photographer
Chris von Wangenheim. Wangenheim had her
pose nude behind a chain-link fence with
makeup assistant Sandy Linter. Carangi
immediately became infatuated with Linter
and started to pursue her, though the
relationship never became stable., Carangi's
agent, Wilhelmina Cooper, died of lung
cancer. Devastated, Carangi started abusing
drugs. Scavullo recalled a fashion shoot
in the Caribbean when "She was crying,
she couldn't find her drugs. I literally
had to lay her down on her bed until she
By 1980, Carangi began having violent
temper tantrums, walking out of photo
shoots, and even falling asleep in front
of the camera. In the November 1980 issue
of Vogue, Carangi's track marks from heroin
can be easily seen. For three weeks, she
was signed with Eileen Ford, who soon
In 1981, Carangi enrolled in a 21-day
detox program, and started dating a college
student, Elyssa Golden. The Carangi family,
along with her mother, had suspected that
Golden had a drug problem. Carangi soon
began using again. She moved out of her
mother's house and in with some friends,
once again entering a detox program.
Her attempt to quit drugs was shattered
when news that good friend and fashion
photographer Chris von Wangenheim had
died in a car accident. It is said[weasel
words] that Carangi locked herself in
a bathroom for hours, shooting heroin.
In the fall of 1981, she looked far different
from the top model she once had been.
However, she was still determined to make
a comeback in the fashion industry. She
contacted Monique Pillard (who was largely
responsible for Janice Dickinson's career),
who was hesitant to sign her.
For her second time, Carangi received
the harsh treatment she skipped last time.
Nobody would book her. Desperate, she
turned to Scavullo. She landed a Cosmopolitan
cover, a gift from Scavullo. Shot in the
winter of 1982, it would be her last cover.
In West Germany, a budding fashion industry
was being created. Although seen as tacky
by the designers from New York, Paris
and Milan, the Germans were willing to
pay 10,000 marks a week to shoot Carangi
abroad. However, no one in the States
would book her. In the spring of 1983,
she was caught with drugs in a shoot in
Africa. Her career was over.
After pressure from her family she entered
a drug-rehabilitation program again at
Eagleville Hospital. After six months,
she was released from the program and
moved back to Philadelphia, where she
seemed to be getting her life back on
track. She started taking classes in photography
and cinematography. But, three months
later, she had vanished once again, and
had returned to Atlantic City, and started
shooting heroin again. She slept with
men for money and was raped on several
occasions. She soon became sick with pneumonia,
and her mother came and checked her into
a hospital in Norristown, Pennyslvania.
was diagnosed with AIDS, then a newly
recognized disease. As her condition worsened,
she was transferred to Philadelphia's
Hahnemann University Hospital. Her mother
stayed with her day and night, allowing
virtually no visitors.
Gia looked through
On November 18, 1986 at 10 a.m., 26-year-old
Gia Carangi died.
Her funeral was held on November 21 at
a small funeral home in Philadelphia.
Nobody from the fashion world attended.
However, weeks later, Scavullo sent a
Mass card when he heard the news.
biography of Carangi by Stephen Fried
called Thing of Beauty was published in
1993. A biographical film, Gia, debuted
on HBO in 1998. Angelina Jolie starred
in the title role.
In 1996, actress-screenwriter Zoë
Tamerlis, herself a heroin addict who
died of drug-related causes in 1999, was
commissioned to write a screenplay based
upon Carangi's life. This version of Gia
was not produced, but after Tamerlis'
death, footage of her, photographers,
Carangi's family, and Sandy Linter discussing
her life was incorporated into a documentary
entitled The Self-Destruction of Gia.
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