Molly Shannon, Anderson Cooper Share How Losing A Parent Made Them Grow Up Too Fast

The comedian and journalist discussed how their shared anxiety as kids dealing with grief shaped their adulthoods.
Molly Shannon was 4 when her mother was killed in a car accident, and Anderson Cooper was 10 when his father died during surgery.
Molly Shannon was 4 when her mother was killed in a car accident, and Anderson Cooper was 10 when his father died during surgery.
M. Von Holden via Getty Images/Dimitrios Kambouris via Getty Images

Molly Shannon and Anderson Cooper recently bonded over the shared experience of losing a parent in childhood, and they discussed how those tragedies affected who they are today.

On the most recent episode of Cooper’s “All There Is” podcast, the comedian and journalist reflected on their individual experiences.

The former “Saturday Night Live” star lost her mother at age 4 when she died in a car accident. Shannon was also in the vehicle, and her father was behind the wheel, but they both survived.

Cooper was 10 years old when his father died at the age of 50 while undergoing heart surgery.

Although their experiences varied, they both found common ground in the roles they felt they had to play.

Both agreed that they were treated more like adults — or a “surrogate partner,” as Shannon put it (at the 11:27 mark of the interview) — to their grieving parent at very young ages.

Shannon said that at age 12, her father, who found himself raising two daughters alone, began having Shannon read over his financial documents.

“I mean, some people might say, ‘Oh, that’s so inappropriate. They shouldn’t do that to a child,’” the “White Lotus” star said (about 12 minutes into the interview). “But the good part about it is it makes you feel like a little like king or queen, kind of, like you feel like, ‘Well, I’m really capable.’”

She added: “And he trusts me with these, like, adult kind of decisions. So there is a boundarylessness to it. But then it was also made me feel great. Somebody once called it empowering abuse.”

Cooper said he could relate when it came to his relationship with his mother, Gloria Vanderbilt.

Anderson Cooper and his mother, Gloria Vanderbilt, in 2016.
Anderson Cooper and his mother, Gloria Vanderbilt, in 2016.
Roy Rochlin via Getty Images

“My mom would ask me for advice, and I’d be like, ‘Mom, he’s married. He’s not, he’s not going to marry you. Whatever he’s saying, he’s not telling you the truth,’” Cooper told Shannon. “I wanted her to give me financial documents because I was like, ‘We’re on a sinking ship, and I need to know exactly how much time we have because I got to earn some money.’”

Shannon and Cooper also expressed that being well aware of an adult hardship like money at a young age made them very “driven” and sparked a desire early on to be successful adults.

“Part of my motivation of throwing myself into work is rage, like the rage of a child who’s lost a parent early on and just angry about that,” Cooper shared.

Shannon agreed that she “was driven to achieve, to make it.”

Shannon as Mary Katherine Gallagher on “Saturday Night Live” in 2007.
Shannon as Mary Katherine Gallagher on “Saturday Night Live” in 2007.
NBC via Getty Images

“I’d been running for a long time. Running, running, running, trying to make it as an actress in LA and do shows and audition,” she said. “And I really wanted to get on television, and then I really wanted to be on ‘Saturday Night Live.’”

But Shannon also seemed to imply that her drive was just a Band-Aid for a much deeper issue.

“And then finally I get an audition for ‘SNL,’ and then finally I get cast and I’m on the show, and then I got Mary Katherine Gallagher on, and... but I felt really depressed because I was, like, ‘Oh, I thought that this would fix everything,’” she said.

“And I felt like, ‘No, there’s something missing.’ And it just felt like I really only wanted my mom. I was like, I just wanted her.”

To hear Shannon and Cooper’s conversation in full, head over to the “All There Is” podcast.

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