Anthony Bourdain

June 8, 2019

His mother said, “He had everything. Success beyond his wildest dreams. Money beyond his wildest dreams.” She added, she had no indication that he might have been thinking of suicide. “He is absolutely the last person in the world I would have ever dreamed would do something like this,” she said.

When he died on June 8, 2018, people close to him were shocked. His best friend recently said, “I still can’t believe it. I still think he’s here, that is the thing that I live with every day.”

He was born on June 25, 1956, in New York City. His paternal grandfather emigrated from Arcachon, France to New York following World War I. France was the only country he had visited when he was a child. He spent most of his childhood in New Jersey. He became a member of the Boy Scouts of America.

In high school, he fell in love with an older girl, started running around with a druggie crowd. His mother at that time told him, “I love you dearly, but, you know, I don’t like you very much at present.” At one time, he got pulled over by the cops with two hundred hits of blotter acid in the car. He was even followed by the Drug Enforcement Administration.

He said, “If there was any justice in this world, I would have been a dead man at least two times over. By this, I mean simply that many times in my life the statistical probabilities of outcome have been overwhelming – thanks to my sins of excess and poor judgment and my inability to say no to anything that sounded as if it might have been fun. … [When I die], I will decidedly not be regretting missed opportunities for a good time. My regrets will be more along the lines of a sad list of people hurt, people let down, assets wasted and advantages squandered.”

He eventually got clean, leaving what he called the “seriously knuckleheaded sh*t” behind. He started shucking oysters and washing dishes in a Cape Cod seafood shack.

That was the clean start he needed. He got interested in the culinary world, started writing books, and began traveling the world.

In the summer of 2006, he flew to Lebanon for a cooking episode. He and his crew got into the middle of a Hezbollah ambush, followed by a retaliation by Israeli forces who launched missiles at Beirut, killing dozens of civilians. They were trapped at the Royal Hotel, but they continued filming.

He soon made a name for himself, with one reporter saying “he had a talent for badassery.”

His “bad boy image”, his fearless opinions about the world around him, his unmistakable writing style led many to call him a heir in spirit to Hunter S. Thompson.

Anthony Bourdain was more than just another celebrity chef, he was described as a seeker of truth, not just in culinary delights, but of life itself, allowing us to see the world with its many cultures and customs.

He became a leading male voice in support of the #MeToo movement, in the wake of rape and abuse allegations against the film producer Harvey Weinstein.

One admirer who misses him said, “If you’re from a marginalized, dehumanized community, you know what Anthony Bourdain meant. To Palestinians, Iranians, Libyans, undocumented immigrants in the US, abused women . . . what a loss.”

He received the Voices of Courage and Conscience award from the Muslim Public Affairs Council, an American Muslim advocacy group, for an episode in which he focused on the humanity of the Palestinians he met, cooked with, and ate with. He said upon accepting his award:

“I was enormously grateful for the response from Palestinians, in particular, for doing what seemed to me an ordinary thing, something we do all the time: show regular people doing everyday things. … The world has visited many terrible things on the Palestinian people, none more shameful than robbing them of their basic humanity. People are not statistics. That is all we attempted to show.”

He also spoke out for employees from Mexico and Central America in the restaurant industry, who he felt were undervalued and treated poorly. He said it’s racist for people to expect to pay very little for Mexican cuisine and wrote in his blog:

“Despite our ridiculously hypocritical attitudes towards immigration, we demand that Mexicans cook a large percentage of the food we eat, grow the ingredients we need to make that food, clean our houses, mow our lawns, wash our dishes, look after our children. As any chef will tell you, our entire service economy — the restaurant business as we know it — in most American cities, would collapse overnight without Mexican workers. Some, of course, like to claim that Mexicans are ‘stealing American jobs.’ But in two decades as a chef and employer, I never had ONE American kid walk in my door and apply for a dishwashing job, a porter’s position — or even a job as prep cook. Mexicans do much of the work in this country that Americans, probably, simply won’t do.”

“I wanted adventures,” Bourdain said. “I wanted to go up the Nung river to the heart of darkness in Cambodia. I wanted to ride out into a desert on camelback, sand and dunes in every direction, eat whole roasted lamb with my fingers. I wanted to kick snow off my boots in a Mafiya nightclub in Russia. I wanted to play with automatic weapons in Phnom Penh, recapture the past in a small oyster village in France, step into a seedy neon-lit pulqueria in rural Mexico. I wanted to run roadblocks in the middle of the night, blowing past angry militia with a handful of hurled Marlboro packs, experience fear, excitement, wonder. I wanted kicks – the kind of melodramatic thrills and chills I’d yearned for since childhood, the kind of adventure I’d found as a little boy in the pages of my Tintin comic books. I wanted to see the world – and I wanted the world to be just like the movies.”

But, he would also say:

“Travel changes you. As you move through this life and this world you change things slightly, you leave marks behind, however small. And in return, life – and travel – leaves marks on you. Most of the time, those marks – on your body or on your heart – are beautiful. Often, though, they hurt.”

Anthony Bourdain died by suicide on June 8, 2018 while filming his show, “Parts Unknown” in France, the first country he traveled to as a child. He was 61.