Weird History She Was The World's First Supermodel But Lost It All To Drugs And Died Of AIDS At 26  

Katia Kleyman
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Gia Carangi was considered "the world’s first supermodel,” preceding the crop of supermodels who would shift the modeling industry in the 1990s. Gia Carangi images adorned the covers of the world’s top magazines during her short-lived career in the late ‘70s and early ‘80s. In fact, at the start of her career she was featured on the cover of  Cosmopolitan twice in the span of five months, and made the covers of the French, British and American Vogue. Her androgynous, borderline tomboy look and olive complexion favorably contrasted against the blonde-haired blue-eyed models that had been popular up until that time, and she was once described as a “beautiful punk, a butch pin-up girl.”

Gia was in high demand, and if it weren’t for her drug addiction and other self-destructive habits, her career would have cemented her legacy alongside famous supermodels like Naomi Campbell, Linda Evangelista, and Cindy Crawford. But what Gia is perhaps best known for is her rapid self-destruction, which ultimately led to her untimely death.

How did Gia Marie Carangi die? She contracted a virus that was ravaging the world at the time, and one which the medical community knew little about — HIV, which soon had fully blown into AIDS. Stricken with the disease, ravaged by drug abuse, penniless, abandoned by all her friends, Gia passed away quietly in a hospital bed in 1986 with only her mother at her side. She was 26.

In 1998, HBO produced a film about the brief, beautiful, and reckless life of Gia Carangi, starring Angelina Jolie. But for most who haven't seen the film, Gia is little-known: a dark, quiet, but important figure from the history of modeling industry and the rise of the supermodel.

She Habitually Visited 'Shooting Galleries'


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While many other models during Gia’s time were by all accounts partying in penthouse lofts, Gia could be found in the seedy underbelly of NYC’s heroin scene. She began visiting “shooting galleries,” a section of Manhattan’s Lower East Side littered with the heroin equivalent of crack houses. Instead of focusing on getting more gigs, she put all her energy towards her next hit of smack. A 1980 note in her personal appointment book, “Get Heroine” [sic], demonstrated her main preoccupation.  

A Photographer Hid Gia's Track Marks For What Turned Out To Be Her Last Cover


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Francesco Scavullo was a famous photographer, primarily known for his Cosmopolitan covers, and Gia’s close friend. In 1982, when Gia was fresh out of rehab, hardly any American photographers or designers would work with her. Scavullo agreed to shoot her for the cover of Cosmo. It would be her last cover. In the shot, Scavullo posed Gia with her hands behind her back to cover the track marks.

In 1983, the stateside demand for Gia was dead. However, there was still some demand abroad. She was sent to Tunisia for what would be her final photoshoot. However, she was caught using heroin on set, which marked the final nail in the coffin of the model’s career.

Gia Was One Of The First Famous Women To Die Of AIDS

Gia could have been one of the greatest models who ever lived. But sadly, perhaps what she is most famous for is becoming one of the first female public figures to die from AIDS. When she was admitted to the hospital in 1985, she tested positive for AIDS-Related-Complex (ARC). This was still in the early era of the AIDS epidemic and medical professionals didn’t know how to properly deal with the HIV virus, or how it was transmitted. The doctors and nurses her hospital room decked out in hazmat suits. Gia succumbed to the virus on November 18, 1986. She was only 26 years old.

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Photo:  Gia/HBO

Gia Was Known For Outrageous Behavior On Set, Like Leaving In The Middle Of A Shoot To Get Drugs

At the height of her addiction, Gia became increasingly more difficult to work with on photography and modeling sets. She would walk out of photo shoots when she was made to wait. She would pass out in a heroin haze in the middle of photo shoots. She was also known to leave a photo shoot, still wearing the designer’s clothing, to go score drugs. Her rebellious and unreliable behavior soon made many photographers and designers blackball her, and her career and health steadily declined.