The Many Times Anderson Cooper Broke Down On Air

Traditionally, news anchors were supposed to be a voice of authority simply there to impartially tell the nation the day’s important ongoings with a stiff upper lip, no matter how troubling, frightening or upsetting they may be. But in recent years, it’s become far more acceptable for America’s TV journalists to get in touch with their emotions while live on air.

And few have shown that today’s newscasters have feelings, too, more than Anderson Cooper. The CNN favorite has shed enough tears to fill a small water bottle during his two decades on the 24-hour rolling TV news station, sometimes out of anger or grief, others out of pure joy and occasionally, much to viewers’ amusement, out of uncontrollable laughter.

From prepared tributes for lost loved ones to spontaneous responses to global tragedies, here’s a look at 11 times the silver fox found it hard to keep the waterworks at bay.

Dr. Cornel West and Anderson Cooper's affecting conversation

Following the death of George Floyd at the hands of Minneapolis police in 2020, an incident which sparked worldwide protests, Anderson Cooper invited Dr. Cornel West to appear on his eponymous CNN show. The civil rights activist spoke about how much he admired the victim’s loved ones before delivering an impassioned call for justice: “We’ve got a love that the world can’t take away. The world … may make being Black a crime. But we refuse to get in the gutter, and we gonna go down swinging like Ella Fitzgerald, Muhammad Ali, in the name of love and justice.” 

West then remarked how change is needed not only for his own daughter, but for everyone, adding, “Because that is the only hope of the world and that kind of love is always tragic, comic and cruciform. You gotta get ready to be crucified with that kind of love.”

Cooper couldn’t help but shed a tear on hearing such an emotive speech, something that West said was nothing to be ashamed about: “We cry because we care, we’re concerned. It is not about political correctness. It’s not about self-righteousness. We cry because we are not numb on the inside and we don’t have a chilliness of soul and a coldness of mind and heart.”

Anderson Cooper's emotional segment about the Pulse nightclub shooting victims

Just two days after 49 individuals lost their lives and 53 were injured during a mass shooting at an Orlando LGBT club, Anderson Cooper headed down to the scene of the crime for a CNN report. And he struggled to hold back the tears as he read out details about all but one of the victims that had been identified.

The anchorman had to pause to gather his composure after referring to Edward Sotomayor Jr., a 34-year-old travel agency worker described as a “witty, charming” person who “always left things better than he found them” by his family. Cooper began the segment telling audiences that the people who had died “are more than a list of names,” adding, “They are people who loved and who were loved. They are people who had families and friends and dreams.”

However, the broadcaster, who four years earlier had publicly come out as gay, wasn’t interested in discussing the man responsible for the massacre. During the special, he explained, “In the next two hours, we want to try to keep the focus where we think it belongs, on the people whose lives were cut short.”

The heartfelt tribute to Anderson Cooper's mother

You certainly couldn’t blame Anderson Cooper for getting emotional during one particular segment on his CNN show 360 in June 2019. For the New Yorker was paying tribute to his mother, the legendary socialite and style icon Gloria Vanderbilt, who had just died from stomach cancer aged 95.

He began his heartfelt eulogy by thanking viewers for their messages of support before revealing that his mom had died in the early hours of the morning while surrounded by loved ones: “Though I was holding her hand and her head when she took her last breath, it’s still a little hard for me to believe she’s gone … Right now, things seem a lot less bright and magical without her.”

The anchorman, whose close relationship with Vanderbilt was documented in HBO special Nothing Left Unsaid, went on to add that he found his final days with her comforting: “‘You and I, it’s a match made in heaven,’ she said to me last week. ‘We’re a good team,’ I told her. We stayed up late that night just holding hands and when she got sleepy … she said to me, ‘What a wonderful night.’ And it was.” He also expressed hope that Vanderbilt was now in the company of two other late family members, brother Carter Vanderbilt Cooper and father Wyatt Cooper.

Anderson Cooper didn't hold back when covering Hurricane Katrina

“I’m not a very emotional person,” Anderson Cooper once stated in a 2015 interview with HuffPost. That’s not to say he doesn’t ever let his guard down when the cameras are rolling. Following his affecting coverage of Hurricane Katrina, the New York Observer (via New York Magazine) called the Yale graduate the ultimate “emo-anchor.”

It was Cooper’s impassioned 2005 CNN interview with Louisiana Senator Mary Landrieu, in particular, where he proved that he wasn’t your ordinary anchorman. The broadcaster could barely hide his fury as Landrieu tried to praise the government’s handling of the natural disaster, interrupting her to tell a shocking story about seeing rats eating the body of a dead woman that had remained unrecovered for two days.

Cooper, who spent a month in the Gulf Coast area in the wake of the devastation, told HuffPost that his reaction was entirely genuine: “There are times when it’s impossible; you’re a human being as well, and to see some of the things that many of us saw, you can’t help but react to it … If a story doesn’t affect you — if your eyes aren’t open and your mind isn’t open to what you’re seeing — then you kind of have no business being there, because you can’t do justice to the people you’re reporting on.”

The happy news that made Anderson Cooper cry on live TV

Of course, sometimes Anderson Cooper lets the waterworks flow for joyful reasons. Yes, in one of the few examples of happy news being shared on CNN in 2020, the anchorman got emotional when informing viewers that he’d just become a dad.

In a two-minute segment to close out an episode of 360, Cooper acknowledged that it had been a tough year for everyone but that it was still important to spread happiness when possible: “Even as we mourn the loss of loved ones we’re also blessed with new life and new love, so I just wanted to take a moment and share with you some joyful news of my own.” The broadcaster then went on to show a picture of the newborn named after his father, who he lost at the age of ten. “I hope I can be as good a dad as he was,” he added.

Cooper also paid tribute to his brother Carter Vanderbilt Cooper, who died by suicide in 1988, and his late mother, Gloria Vanderbilt. Following the emotional reveal, the multiple Emmy winner was gifted a plush CNN satellite truck toy by his colleague Dr. Sanjay Gupta.

If you or someone you know is having suicidal thoughts, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or text HOME to the Crisis Text Line at 741741.

Anderson Cooper's fervent response to one of Donald Trump's reported remarks

As his infamous “obese turtle” comment from the 2020 presidential election coverage proves, Anderson Cooper was never afraid to sock it to the 45th President of the United States. But possibly his most defiant response came two years earlier after Donald Trump allegedly described Haiti and various African nations as “s***hole countries.” (As BBC noted, Trump denied making these comments.)

“Let me be clear, the people of Haiti have been through more, withstood more, fought back against more injustice than our President ever has,” Cooper stated during a segment on his CNN show 360. He went on to recall his experiences of the country and its people, including his high school math teacher who was later assassinated, his first trip there in the early ’90s, and his return in 2010 following an earthquake.

Cooper got choked up as he remembered the various harrowing scenes he witnessed during that latter visit. “I was there when a five-year-old boy named Monley was rescued after being buried for more than seven days,” he recalled. “Do you know what strength it takes to survive on rainwater buried under concrete — a five-year-old boy.” He concluded the piece by arguing that the Trump administration could learn from the dignity of the Haitian people and offered its residents his thoughts and his love.

Stephen Colbert and Anderson Cooper's emotional chat

You might not expect the host of The Late Show with Stephen Colbert to get viewers reaching for the tissues. But while appearing on Anderson Cooper’s CNN show 360, the former Comedy Central staple ended up partaking in a highly emotional and deeply heartfelt meditation on grief.

Things got deep when the CNN anchor began reflecting on his mother Gloria Vanderbilt’s death just months earlier and how he’d been touched by all the public condolences. In turn, Colbert then opened up about the tragedy of losing his brothers Paul and Peter and his father in a plane crash when he was only 10 years old: “I was personally shattered, and then you kind of reform yourself in this quiet, grieving world that was created in the house.”

A visibly touched Cooper, who was also the same age when his own father died, then referenced a previous statement Colbert had made about his loss. “You told an interviewer that you have learned to — in your words — love the thing that I most wish had not happened,” Cooper began. “You went on to say, ‘What punishments of God are not gifts?’ Do you really believe that?” The comedian replied, “Yes. It’s a gift to exist, and with existence comes suffering. There’s no escaping that.”

Anderson Cooper's poignant coverage of Anthony Bourdain's death

Reporting on the death of a much-loved public figure is always a sensitive task for any newscaster. Even more so when they knew the deceased personally. That’s the difficult situation Anderson Cooper found himself in 2018 when his friend and former CNN colleague Anthony Bourdain died by suicide.

Everyone from Lin-Manuel Miranda to Barack Obama paid tribute to the revered chef following the shocking news. But Cooper’s visibly emotional response on his CNN show 360 proved to be one of the most affecting: “It is impossible from the outside to ever fully know what goes on in someone else’s heart or in their head. It is impossible to fathom how quickly one’s life can change … Tonight, the hurt for all of us who knew Anthony, and all of us who came to know him through his travels, that hurt is strong, and the shock is real, the sadness is just beginning to sink in.”

Cooper said it was “really hard to imagine” using the past tense when referring to the Parts Unknown star. The phone number of the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline appeared on screen throughout the anchorman’s remembrance which acknowledged that the culinary master “loved and was loved in return.”

If you or someone you know is having suicidal thoughts, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or text HOME to the Crisis Text Line at 741741.

The White House's response to synagogue shooting that didn't sit right with Anderson Cooper

In 2018, Anderson Cooper reported live from the scene of another mass shooting. On this occasion, the anchorman was in front of the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh where an anti-Semitic gunman killed 11 people and injured seven others.

As Raw Story noted, Cooper struggled to keep his composure as he told viewers about the details of the horrific attack. But according to the outlet, his sadness appeared to turn to fury when talk turned to the White House’s response— particularly that of its press secretary. The show cut to a clip of an emotional Sarah Sanders at an official press conference, where she called the atrocity “an act of evil.” She also went on to call the press “outrageous” for blaming the attack on Donald Trump.

According to Raw Story, Cooper argued that Sanders’s speech seemed less about the tragedy and more about addressing “accusations that [Trump is] enflaming anger and divisions within the nation.” As USA Today reported, “[Trump] was greeted by hundreds of protesters” when he later showed up in Pittsburgh to pay his respects. 

Anderson Cooper teared up on live TV while covering the pandemic more than once

Reporting on the COVID-19 pandemic in 2020 understandably brought Anderson Cooper to tears on several occasions. In April that year, Cooper got emotional while speaking to a woman whose husband died from COVID-19.

On an episode of CNN’s 360, Kate Coelho recalled several details of her husband Jonathan’s final days, including their last FaceTime call and a note he wrote to his family. The message read in part, “I love you guys with all my heart and you’ve given me the best life I could have ever asked for.” It was when Cooper read out the latter that he began to choke up before offering his apologies to his interviewee. Coelho replied, “Jonathan’s good with his words, huh?”

Then in August, another heartfelt message on his 360 show had Cooper shedding tears. Rosa Felipe, a Miami health care assistant who’d been in hospital five months with the virus, was being profiled for CNN when she asked correspondent Randi Kaye, “Could you please congratulate Anderson Cooper on his baby … I’m happy that he has his baby, and he’s so cute.” Following its broadcast, the cameras cut straight to Cooper wiping tears from his eyes. “I mean, wow, what she has been through,” he told Kaye, who replied, “That was the only time in our whole interview that she smiled was talking about you and Wyatt.”

The story that elicited tears of laughter from Anderson Cooper

In 2011, Anderson Cooper reported on the bizarre story about Gerard Depardieu urinating on a plane cabin’s carpet after ignoring requests from flight attendants to wait just 15 minutes during take off. (As BBC reported, a friend of Depardieu’s attributed the incident to prostate issues.) It’s not the kind of news item you’d expect to provoke a tearful reaction. Yet Anderson Cooper couldn’t help but sob while reading out the details on the 360 segment titled RidicuList. In laughter, of course.

The anchorman had previously warned his Twitter followers that he may have to fight to keep his cool on the air, as he’d corpsed during rehearsals. Cooper had just about managed to get through several toilet-based puns without cracking up, but the following pushed him over the edge: “After Gerard took his little solo fight to uri-nation, the plane had to turn around and go back to the gate, and some unlucky cleaning crew had to deal with the Golden Globe-winning tinkle. Now all I can say is they should thank their lucky stars it wasn’t Depard-two.”

Cooper then had to wipe away his tears after giggling uncontrollably for a good minute before apologizing, “Sorry, this has actually never happened to me. You always see this sort of thing on YouTube, and you don’t think it’d actually happen to you.” Inevitably, the clip went viral, with many fans commenting online about how much they enjoyed his very human response to such a ridiculous piece.

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