Channel Surfing
By Laura Nachman
May 4, 2001

Gia Carangi

Thanks to a best-selling novel, an HBO movie, and two television specials that aired in April, the world knows the tragic story of Philadelphia’s Gia Carangi, who rose to the top of the modeling world in the late 70’s, only to die of AIDS after years of heroin addiction at the age of 26 in 1986.  However, the world would have never learned of Gia if not for the television show “AM Philadelphia” that aired on WPVI-6.  Show host Wally Kennedy, now of 6ABC’s “Philly After Midnight,” recalled, “in the spring of 1988, we were doing a program about men who had AIDS.  We received a call from a woman who said that her daughter was a famous model and died of the disease, which was very unusual, because very few women contracted AIDS back then.  The woman turned out to be Gia’s mother, Kathleen Sperr.  We ended up doing an entire program with Kathleen about Gia, and I called a friend that I had known and respected for years, Stephen Fried, then a senior writer for “Philadelphia” magazine.”  With Kennedy’s help, Fried contacted Sperr, and with her cooperation, Fried spent the next six months talking to friends, family, and the top names in the fashion industry.  Fried said, “it was an amazing story of Philly and the fashion world in the 70’s.  I had access to everybody.  They all wanted to talk about Gia.” “Thing of Beauty” appeared as a “Philadelphia” magazine feature in November of 1988.  When it became a novel of the same name, Fried credited Kennedy in the book – “I met Kathleen because of a phone call from “AM Philadelphia” host Wally Kennedy after her original appearance on his program.  Wally knows a lot of journalists, and he could have called any one of them.”  I’m grateful he chose me.”

Wally Kennedy of "
Philly After Midnight"

This month, Gia was the topic of two national shows: “The E! True Hollywood Story – Gia: Supermodel,” and “ABC News Vanished: Shooting Star.” Fried was happy with the ABC special which included interviews with famed photographer Francesco Scavullo, model Beverly Johnson, and a couple of Gia’s friends from the area.  It also included clips of Kathleen Sperr’s appearance on “AM Philadelphia,” and Gia’s ill-fated spot during a 1983 report about models on “20/20.”  Fried and Kennedy were each interviewed for “Vanished” and Fried appeared in the “E! True Hollywood Story.” 

Author of "Thing of Beauty," Stephen Fried

Kennedy said that the Gia story turned out to be one of the biggest of his career. He said, “In death, Gia has become larger than life.”  It became an important part of Stephen Fried’s life too – he is known worldwide as a “Gialogist,” the ultimate authority and arbitrator of “all things Gia.” He has a wealth of Gia information on his web site,, and a day doesn’t go by when he isn’t asked about Gia.  “Thing of Beauty” was excerpted in “Vanity Fair,” Fried appeared on “Oprah,” the book inspired the HBO movie “Gia” starring Angelina Jolie, and the feature film version of “Thing of Beauty” is currently in “turnaround” at Paramount studios.  And it all started with that fateful call from Wally Kennedy 13 years ago.