Viva Gia!

Published August 7, 2012 by Maryanne

1980s, first supermodel Gia Carangi

Cosmo Girl!


I have to be honest, I lived the 1980s but do not remember Gia Carangi, the famous supermodel.

Mind you, like Gia, I was also in my 20s at the time so a lot of cultural things slipped by me because I was making my own culture by dating, going to nightclubs and exploring — which is totally understandable for a 20-something. And don’t forget, we didn’t have a lot of the media we have now back then. There was no internet, no You Tube … and some families didn’t even have cable television; some still had b&w TV sets!

When I first heard of Gia, it was when I picked up the 1994 paperback edition of the book, “Thing of Beauty: The Tragedy of Supermodel Gia” by Stephen Fried, originally published in 1993.

I was mesmerized by the tragic story of a gorgeous Italian girl who rose to superstar status in the late 1970s, early 1980s fashion industry, and just a short time later died of AIDS in 1986.

The cool thing about Gia was — she was into cool things, like David Bowie and Blondie. She was in Blondie’s “Atomic” video. She was tough and throughout the book I thought she was like a fashionista version of Joan Jett.

A few years after I got the book, an HBO special came on about the life of Gia, staring Angelina Jolie. To me, that was Angelina’s best role ever. I loved the dark, sad movie. It effected me for days.

Well, last week Lifetime showed the movie again. I dug out my old “Thing of Beauty” book and started to re-read it.ย  I also looked up videos of Gia on You Tube and watched interviews. And a cold chill encompasses my body as I revisited the tragedy.

In my opinion, Gia was a fantastic model because her looks transformed her into a vast variety of different people. In Gia, at times I see: Julia Roberts, Janice Dickenson and Cindy Crawford.

And I also see, in Gia, some friends I had in the 1980s — not models, just normal pretty girls. I think that’s why Gia is so fascinating — on one hand she has the superior looks, but on the other hand, a sweet, simple vulnerability that all of us possess. That is what we’re relating to; we all just want to give her a hug.

During one of her last interviews, I felt she is being interrogated when asked about her drug use. Then Gia brought up drugs in food — which I felt was a genius move. Then the interviewer resorted to sarcasm by saying there isn’t cocaine in food.

Yeah, there isn’t cocaine in food, but other DRUGS that cause cancer, diabetes, obesity, etc. which can all lead to DEATH! With Gia being as tough as she was, I wondered why she chose to stay in such a vulnerable mode during the interview and didn’t defend herself by saying what I just said.

Regardless, that girl was wise beyond her years and ahead of her time. Some people simply are therefore they die young and maybe come back many years later. I feel this way about James Dean.

And also, Nancy Spungeon.

No, really, hear me out …

If you read “And I Don’t Want to Live This Life” by Deborah Spungeon, Nancy’s mom, there are similarities. (And so interesting, both girls were from Philadelphia!)

These girls were tough, did drugs, turned tricks for drugs, possessed incredible style and beauty. I know a lot of people don’t think of Nancy as a “beauty.” But look again, she has similar features to the stunning Lady GaGa.

Both Gia and Nancy were head strong and intelligent. Spungeon’s IQ was 175.

And both died in their 20s.

I can only speculate, but I think people who die young just know their own destiny and live these frenzied lives as if they are trying to cheat death, somehow.

Fatal stories are horrific to us, especially when we’ve lost loved ones who wanted to live. How can others throw their lives away just like that? It’s not for us to say or judge, as we do not know the pain that lives inside another human being.

I like to focus on the positive. I did not know Gia personally, but what I do know is what she left behind to the world: Art via her beauty. She was a damn good model and I love going back to the 1980s through her work. Even though Gia’s time wasn’t so innocent, it was an innocent time for a lot of people. And nostalgia is healthy.

RIP, Gia. You were an original.

16 comments on “Viva Gia!

  • What a brilliant article! You never disappoint, Mary Anne. I loved Gia and also Nancy Spungen. Both were way ahead of their time. “And I Don’t Want To Live This Life,” was an amazing book. I remember not being able to put it down.

    • Thanks Gina! I’m glad you got the connection between those two like I did. I loved the Nancy book and read it twice in my lifetime — once when I was not much older than she was when she died; and later in my 40s, so I was able to see both perspectives, hers and her moms. Chilling!

  • Thanks for this piece. I was born in 1959, just four months before Gia and saw and experienced many of the same things in my 20s that you describe. But I never knew Gia’s story until earlier this year. In a manner similar to the above poster, I saw the movie and was so moved by it that I immediately sent away for Thing of Beauty and read it cover to cover in three days. (It was Stephen Fried who tweeted your post.) I also joined an on-line group dedicated to Gia.

    Her story was very transformative to me and an inspiration to consider possibilities in my life that I hadn’t considered before. Like you, I think she was ahead of her time; an old soul in a young body. I think the message of her life is that life is only lived fully when we embrace both the light and the shadow. And, since 2007, I have lived in the Philadelphia area and thus have been able to see some of the places “where Gia walked.” Thanks also for the info on Nancy Spungeon; am not familiar but will follow up on her.

    • Hi Chris, thanks for your thought-provoking comment. I’m right behind you, born in 1963. I love what you said about embracing both light and shadow, as so many of us have been at both ends of the spectrum, and to me, Gia’s story says, “that’s okay.” Some things just can not be avoided in life because that’s our path and destiny, but we can always fight for the light even though sometimes it is quite the battle.

      Didn’t realize Stephen Fried tweeted my post — thanks for letting me know that. As a writer, it’s awesome that another writer respected my blog that way.

      Nancy Spungeon was the girlfriend of Sid Vicious. So many people looked down on her, but if you read her mom’s book (and You Tube some of her videos) that girl had a lot going on in her head — and was well ahead of her time too.

      • Ok I do remember her after you mentioned Sid Vicious; I’ve seen the movie “Sid and Nancy.” But still I’m interested in learning more about her and will look for her mother’s book.

        And I like how you put it; Gia’s story says it’s “okay.” It’s a message I’ve been able to absorb so much more easily since learning her story.

        Gia is really something. Once she gets a hold of you, she doesn’t let!

        Thanks again.

  • love your post……. I too was not familiar with Gia, until the 2nd time I saw the GIA Movie and I really paid attention to it. I was curious to know who she was and really blew me away when I read Thing of Beauty(such a great book Mr. Fried really did his homework)….. I am a child of the late 70’s and 80’s leafing through fashion magazines and absorbing my own sarroundings trying to figure “IT” out. This girl was so so ahead of her time. she was a spiritual being who was here to make an impact in our world. She was a beautiful person inside and out. I cannot let go of her either. She was and still is amazing.

    • Thanks so much for reading and sharing your thoughts! I agree that Mr. Fried did a killer research job! I wonder how long it took to write the book? It’s so cool that all these Gia fans are turning up. Re-reading the book right after seeing the movie gets Gia right into your blood. What she hasn’t accomplished in life, she’s accomplishing in the afterlife, touching so many of us … a patron saint for the misfits who never quite fit in.

  • I love what you have to say! I am girl from Philly same age as Gia! I caught the end of the movie one Saturday about 3 months ago and had to know more!!! since than I got the book and saw the movie again,hated the movie!I feel it was not the true story of Gia, the book was the real deal to me. all places Gia went to in Philly & “down the shore” is like my life I keep thinking to my self did she walk by me? because thats where I was during that time and yes drugs were in my life too, the difference is Family, Gia did not have support and she could not get out of it. It seems to me this special person, this one of a kind beauty was alone since the age of 13.

    • Hi Susan! Thanks so much for your comments. That’s true, Gia could have walked right by you. Maybe even smiled at you. Back then people were cooler in a sense that all you needed was music as a common ground and we’d all talk to each other. I’m slightly younger than you guys, but that’s how it was for us in the late 1970s/early 1980s at the Jersey Shore (which is vast — Gia was in Atlantic City, I was in Seaside Heights) and NYC. Parental support is so important and you are very blessed to have had it. I agree, Gia certainly was a one of a kind beauty. They compare Cindy Crawford with her, but I don’t see it. Cindy once made a negative, crass comment about Gia, and to me that was just catty and jealous. Never liked her and she’ll never be able to walk in Gia’s shoes!

  • Sorry Gia carangi was pretty she looked like a cross between Wyoming Ryder and Julia Roberts she looked like an average girl you seee everyday nothing special

  • What do you think?

    Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

    You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

    Twitter picture

    You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

    Facebook photo

    You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

    Connecting to %s

    %d bloggers like this: