EXCLUSIVE: The lonely final years of André Leon Talley: The 300 lb. fashion icon led a solitary life in a New York suburb, where he spent his last days trying to protect himself from the coronavirus that would ultimately kill him
André Leon Talley, a fashion icon and driving and driving force behind Vogue’s success, spent his last days secluded at home trying to protect himself from the coronavirus that would ultimately kill him, the DailyMail.com has learned.
Before the pandemic, he was — at more than 300 lb. — a larger-than-life character in his adopted hometown of White Plains, New York, where he’d regularly eat out at his favorite diner while posing for photographs with customers and sharing stories about his time at Vogue.
He would also make kind gestures such as dropping off flowers for neighbors.
But six months ago, in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, one of those neighbors Barbara Galella said she stopped by his house to share a book from her uncle Ron Galella, a famed paparazzi photographer. She said Talley came to the door but wouldn’t open it.
‘He was very cautious about COVID,’ Galella told DailyMail.com. ‘He had the mask on and just said “leave the book on the porch.” So I did.’
‘That’s why I’m surprised to read that’s how he passed,’ she added.
André Leon Talley had been living in the New York City suburb of White Plains at the time of his death on Tuesday
He was taken on by Conde Nast exec Anna Wintour at American Vogue in 1983 and was appointed its creative director in 1988. The two had a close friendship before falling out three years ago
Talley had lived in solitude in this 11-room colonial home in White Plains, New York, north of Manhattan
Vogue had announced Talley died in a White Plains hospital Tuesday after suffering a heart attack.
But the fashion icon’s friend of 45 years, Texas anesthesiologist Dr. Yvonne Cormier, told the Houston Chronicle that he had passed away from complications from coronavirus.
She added that he also had underlying health issues related to his weight.
The former editor-at-large of Vogue had been living in a 11-room colonial home in the New York City suburb since 2004. Even after his death, a bottle of hand sanitizer could be seen on the porch.
He’d been engaged in a messy legal battle with the homeowner George Malkemus, the ex-CEO of Manolo Blahnik who accused him of owing $500,000 in rent.
But he successfully fought off eviction and was allowed to remain there after reaching a settlement in November — just two months before his death — his lawyer told DailyMail.com Wednesday.
Galella feared the worst when she saw paramedics pull up to Talley’s house earlier this week. It was the second time in three weeks that emergency crews stopped by his residence.
‘Three weeks ago, I just happened to be sitting there and I saw an EMS truck and the police, and then another car coming, and saw them all go in,’ she said.
The fashion icon had been embroiled in an eviction lawsuit after the homeowners claimed Talley had owed them more than $515,000
He’d been engaged in a messy legal battle with the homeowner George Malkemus, the ex-CEO of Manolo Blahnik who accused him of owing $500,000 in rent
‘I said I wonder if he had a heart attack or something. And then I was looking to see if anything was in the paper and didn’t see anything.
‘Then just a couple days ago, I saw EMS, the police show up again,’ she continued.
‘And I said have a feeling something may have happened because that’s twice.’
Galella was heartbroken, sharing memories of a neighbor she saw as remarkably kind.
She said she and her family met Talley six years ago and told him that they were living just down the street from him.
Talley told her that he remembered her home’s previous owner and how the grounds were beautifully decorated. Days later, Talley hand-delivered flowers.
‘He pulled up with his driver and delivered all these flowers, seven bouquets of beautiful flowers,’ Galella told DailyMail.com.
Galella met Talley at the City Limits Diner, where he was a regular. Over the past 27 years he would dine there as many as three times a day until the coronavirus pandemic hit.
Talley lived alone sleeping on a bed late designer and friend Oscar de la Renta gave him (pictured together in 1990)
Talley would leave his personal driver outside the restaurant and walk in to sit down at his usual corner booth near the bar area.
He often arrived in a fashionable, loose-fitting muumuu and would order multiple dishes – his favorites being the soy chili glazed salmon and turkey chili, which he’d pile high with onions.
Landlord George Malkemus settled his lawsuit with Talley over unpaid rent in November and allowed him to stay in his longtime home
‘He was larger than life,’ general manager Tony Aliaj told DailyMail.com sitting at the booth Talley would occupy. ‘You couldn’t miss him, that’s for sure.’
‘He loved our cheesecake, the Tahitian vanilla bean cheesecake. He loved the food so much he’d even take extra to go,’ he added.
He told how Talley would scarf down his meal while chatting amiably with staff and customers about his time at Vogue.
‘He’d come in by himself,’ Aliaj said. ‘Customers would walk up to him and he’d share stories about Vogue and the fashion industry. He’d embrace it and would often pose for pictures with people.
‘He was completely different than what you’d expect for someone fashion industry,’ the manager continued. ‘He was just a regular dude.’
The former editor-at-large of Vogue, who left the fashion world in 2014, was a regular at the City Limits Diner, where he would dine as many as three times a day over the past 27 years until the coronavirus pandemic hit, DailyMail.com can reveal
Talley was known to order multiple dishes from the menu – his favorites being the soy chili glazed salmon (left) and turkey chili (right) which he’d pile high with onions
The diner’s Tahitian vanilla bean cheesecake (pictured) was among Talley’s favorite menu items
As a towering and highly visible figure in the fashion industry, Talley had spoken candidly about his battle with weight gain and his relationship with food in the media.
When asked whether fashion and food went together, he told the Associated Press in 2003: ‘Food is not important in the fashion world, where you are supposed to look like an asparagus.
‘In my world, it’s about butter pound cake, and fried chicken, and potato salad and hot biscuits…It’s hard to break away from that for a lettuce sandwich.’
Despite reports that Talley was struggling financially, he didn’t appear to have any money problems when he walked into City Limits, according to Aliaj.
‘From the looks of it, he was doing all right,’ he said. ‘He didn’t look like he was struggling. He seemed to be living a comfortable life.
‘We’ll all miss him here. He was so wonderful with everybody here. And he’d also give our staff great tips, over the top tips,’ he added.
Aliaj said Talley stopped showing up at the diner after the pandemic took hold in early 2020.
Talley would often scarf down his meal while chatting amiably with staff and customers about his time at Vogue, general manager Tony Aliaj said
The pioneering journalist began his career in fashion at the age of 28 after snagging a job as a reporter at Women’s Wear Daily.
General manager Tony Aliaj – seen sitting at the booth Talley would occupy – described the late fashion icon as a ‘larger than life figure’
He was taken on by Conde Nast exec Anna Wintour at American Vogue in 1983 and was appointed its creative director in 1988.
Talley, who retired from editing in 2014, had spoken about his struggles with his weight and how it played a role in his fallout with Wintour, his once close friend and boss in his 2020 memoir.
The pair’s longtime friendship came to an abrupt end three years ago when Wintour, Talley revealed, froze him out for being ‘too old, too overweight, too uncool’.
The creative director opened up his lifelong weight problem which he said he developed after losing a close friend as well as his grandmother in 1989.
At one point during his fashion career Talley had moved back home to North Carolina into the house he’d bought for his grandmother and finally grieved her death by binge eating barbecue.
When he returned to Vogue as editor-at-large, Talley’s weight carried on ballooning, something Wintour could not ignore, advising him to ‘go to the gym.’
He got a personal trainer and tried the cabbage diet – where you just eat cooked cabbage -but it didn’t work.
Talley was open about his struggles with his weight – which turned into a lifelong battle following the death of his grandmother in 1989. He is pictured cutting a slimmer figure with Marina Schiano left in 1980 and supermodel Naomi Campbell in 1991 (right)
Diana Ross and André Leon Talley dancing at Studio 54 in New York City around 1979
Wintour then staged an intervention with Talley’s pastor and designer Oscar de la Renta and his wife, who were two of Talley’s closest friends.
Wintour explained that Talley’s weight was ‘out of control’ and he was sent for rehab at the Duke Diet and Fitness Center in his hometown of Durham, North Carolina.
Talley lost 55lbs but he put it back on and he returned to the center three times for a ‘yo-yo battle I long ago realized I will never win,’ he wrote in his memoir.
Talley in his memoir also admitted how he initially believed the love of his fashionista friends would last forever, until they cruelly dropped him when he was no longer useful to them.
He said he has ‘huge emotional and psychological scars’ from his decades long friendship with the magazine’s notoriously icy editor.
In a statement after his death, Wintour said his loss is ‘immeasurable,’ and that she will miss him despite their ‘complicated past.’
Talley had been embroiled in an eviction lawsuit involving his secluded White Plains home, where he was still living and sleeping on a bed Oscar de la Renta gave him shortly before his death. It was eventually settled with him being allowed to continue to live there.
Talley is pictured with designers Karl Lagerfeld and Tommy Hilfiger
Talley and Kristen McMenamy attend New York City fashion week in the mid 1990s
Former head of Manolo Blahnik USA George Malkemus and his husband and business partner Anthony Yurgaitis who bought the house for about $1million in 2004 with the understanding that Talley would live in it and pay them money each month.
But according to the New York Times, the lease expired in 2014 and it was never renewed, with Malkemus and Yurgaitis claiming Talley owed them more than $515,000.
Talley filed a counterclaim in January 2021, saying he believed the payments were an equity investment intended to result in ownership, and requested that the house be placed in a trust so he could prove his right to ownership.