Gladys Bourdain, a longtime copy editor at the New York Times who helped kick-start the writing career of her son Anthony, the chef who became a world-famous memoirist and television host, died on Friday at a hospice facility in the Bronx. She was 85.
Her son Christopher confirmed the death. He said she had been in failing health for some time.
Gladys Bourdain began her career at the Times in 1984 and worked there until 2008, developing a reputation as a strict grammarian on the culture and metropolitan desks. She also wrote for outlets like Opera News, Musical America and the Times.
She profiled Julia Child for the Times in 1978 after a visit to Child’s home in Southern France, describing her kitchen as “organized clutter.”
Her son Anthony Bourdain became a hard-partying chef, and in the late 1990s he wrote an article chronicling the seamier secrets of life in the restaurant business. He was struggling to publish it in 1999 when Gladys Bourdain mentioned to him that she knew a Times reporter, Esther Fein, who was married to David Remnick, the newly minted editor of the New Yorker magazine.
“She came over, and she said, ‘You know, your husband’s got this new job,’ ” Fein (who left the Times in 1999) said on Monday. “ ‘I hate to sound like a pushy mom, but I’m telling you this with my editor’s hat on, not my mother’s hat on. It’s really good, and it’s really interesting, but nobody will look at it, nobody will call him back or give it a second look. Could you put it in your husband’s hands?’ ”
Fein persuaded Remnick to read the article, and the New Yorker published it under the title “Don’t Eat Before Reading This.” Anthony Bourdain later said that he had a book deal in a matter of days after that.
Expanding on the article, he wrote “Kitchen Confidential: Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly” (2000), an unflinching look at the food service industry that became a No. 1 New York Times bestseller.
The book’s success propelled Bourdain from a brasserie kitchen onto television, as the host of “No Reservations” and “Parts Unknown,” on which he traveled the world sampling different foods and engaging with different cultures.
Anthony Bourdain took his own life in 2018 at 61.
Gladys Bourdain memorialized her son with a tattoo of his name on her wrist — her first and only tattoo.
Gladys Sacksman was born in Manhattan on Oct. 19, 1934, to Martha and Milton Sacksman. Her father operated a small trucking company, and her mother was a homemaker.
She grew up in the University Heights neighborhood of the Bronx and attended what is now Lehman College in that borough.
She worked for TV Guide, the Record of Bergen County, N.J., and Agence France-Presse before joining the Times.
She married Pierre Bourdain in 1954. They separated in 1980. Pierre Bourdain died in 1987.
In addition to her son Christopher, she is survived by three grandchildren.