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Julie Powell, bestselling author of ‘Julie & Julia,’ dies at 49

A woman with long brown hair wearing a black dress and smiling.
Author Julie Powell attends the 2009 premiere of “Julie & Julia” in New York.
(Peter Kramer / Associated Press)
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Julie Powell, the bestselling author of “Julie & Julia” who famously documented her yearlong mission to cook every recipe in Julia Child’s book “Mastering the Art of French Cooking,” died Oct. 26 at her home in Olivebridge, N.Y. She was 49.

The influential food writer’s brother-in-law, Ethan Powell, confirmed her death to the Los Angeles Times on Tuesday and said the cause was cardiac arrest caused by a heart arrhythmia, defined by the Mayo Clinic as an irregular heartbeat.

Powell rose to prominence in the early 2000s when — unsatisfied with her mundane 9-to-5 job in the Big Apple — she resolved to prepare all the meals in Child’s cookbook over the course of a year. She wrote candidly and vividly about her journey through French cuisine in a blog for Salon.com, “The Julie/Julia Project,”
which soon amassed hundreds of thousands of readers left rapt by her ambitiousness and relatability.

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“That first [blog] was like standing on top of the high dive,” she told The Times in 2003. “There was a definite flush of excitement. I posted it and it was out there and I couldn’t take it back. That was the top of the roller coaster.”

In 2005, Powell published a book about the life-altering, whirlwind experience titled “Julie & Julia: 365 Days, 524 Recipes, 1 Tiny Apartment Kitchen,” which writer and director Nora Ephron later adapted into an Oscar-nominated film starring Meryl Streep as Child and Amy Adams as Powell. Through cooking and writing, Powell learned and imparted valuable life lessons that extended far beyond the ability to steam a live lobster or bone a duck.

“‘Julie & Julia’ became an instant classic and it is with gratitude for her unique voice that we will now remember Julie’s dazzling brilliance and originality,” Powell’s editor, Julie Clain, head of the Little, Brown publishing company, said in a statement provided to The Times.

“We mourn her loss with her husband Eric and her family. We are sending our deepest condolences to all who knew and loved Julie, whether personally or through the deep connections she forged with readers of her memoirs. She was a brilliant writer and a daring, original person and she will not be forgotten.”

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On the heels of her “Julie & Julia” success, Powell penned a second memoir, “Cleaving: A Story of Marriage, Meat, and Obsession,” exploring her marriage to Eric Powell. In addition to blogs and books, Powell also lent her writing talents to several publications, including the Los Angeles Times, the New York Times, Food & Wine and Bon Appétit.

“By the time Julia [Child] died, just short of her 92nd birthday, in 2004, I was trying to embrace her approach both to food and to life,” Powell wrote in a 2012 essay for the Los Angeles Times.

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“The discipline, hard work and fascination she emphasized had led me, unexpectedly, to the beginnings of a career and, less unexpectedly but perhaps more essentially, to a truly beautiful boeuf bourguignonne. Now I try to continue to be guided by her example. Not simply to follow my bliss but to hunt it down, nose to the ground, unrelentingly.”

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