Jean-Claude Baker, the owner of Hell's Kitchen stalwart Chez Josephine and one of 12 adopted children of 1920s jazz star Josephine Baker, committed suicide yesterday, at the age of 71. Though he was a constant and well-loved presence at the garish French bistro, friends tell the Post he was suffering from depression. He was found in his car at home yesterday morning.
The restaurant, which has been open on W 42nd Street since 1983, has always been a favorite haunt of the theater crowd and a good number of celebrities. Over the years, regulars have ranged from Jacqueline Kennedy Onassis to Billy Joel. Harry Connick, Jr. also got his start there, playing the piano at age 17. Baker himself was an essential part of his restaurant. As Brooks of Sheffield wrote in a Who Goes There? on Chez Josephine back in 2011:
Jean-Claude is not an absent owner, an absent host, an absent manager or an absent anything. I have never visited Chez Josephine where he was not the first thing I saw upon parting the red entry curtains. Alert as a hawk to every action in his ruby-hued world, he is everywhere at once, yet always at the door to greet newcomers. He hops from table to table, dusting with Gallic charm his many loyal regulars