On June 8th, the anniversary of Anthony Bourdain’s tragic passing, we remember the man who introduced us to a beautiful world of culture, one plate at a time.
“Only one in four has a chance at making it. I was the guy.”
Though Kitchen Confidential turned him into an “overnight success”, Anthony Bourdain was did not stumbled upon fortune. There’s far more to his tale beyond the accounts in his famous memoir. His popular article in The New Yorker, Don’t Eat Before Reading This, was but one of many previously published works. Bourdain’s first piece was a short-story printed in a small literary journal in the mid-1980s. After attending a writing workshop, Bourdain honed his craft and published two fiction novels, Bone in the Throat and Gone Bamboo, both of which received too little acclaim to garner mainstream success.
This wasn’t the best-selling Anthony Bourdain that critics drool over. This was just Tony. A chef. A recovering drug addict. A man following his passion, finding his voice in the publishing world one word at a time.
He was, like so many others, devoting his free time to an art form that offered no guarantee of success. Some may say he had nothing to lose; others understand that such creative aspirations can easily disrupt one’s state of mind, sobriety, and livelihood on a near-constant basis.
Yet Tony pressed on, riding the rollercoaster of highs and lows that every writer, regardless of skill level, knows all too well. Of the many accomplishments Anthony Bourdain would go on to achieve, becoming Anthony Bourdain is perhaps his greatest triumph.
The Author Abroad
“I write, I travel, I eat…and I’m hungry for more.”
When Bourdain first appeared on our TV screens, he wasted no time in eating his way across all corners of the globe. Viewers devoured his one-liners and cheeky quips, lapping up any bit of media that gave a flavorful taste of Bourdain’s razor wit, curious perspective, and passion for exploring culture and community through food. Between A Cook’s Tour and No Reservations, the former line cook cemented himself as one of the most entertaining and divisive personalities on television.
As we followed Bourdain around the world, we watched him evolve from episode to episode. Between A Cook’s Tour and Parts Unknown, our host transformed from a TV personality into a champion of humanity, culture, and the global community. View any of his programs and watch as he changes from season to season, maturing in ways that one would not expect from the “bad boy chef”.
Low-hanging fruit like overplayed Kardashian jokes were abandoned and his comedic crutches were replaced by a reverence that was peppered into even his most light-hearted of monologues. He questioned and criticized every aspect of life, often dragging his own perspectives and lifestyle choices under the microscope.
“I’m reexamining my life.”
While his chaotic experience trapped in Beirut during the Israel-Lebanon War positioned him at a crossroads that irrevocably influenced the tone and focus of his following shows, the birth of his daughter rerouted his path off-camera. It wasn’t his world anymore; it was his daughter’s. Now, politics, prejudice, and public perception had a new meaning.
The man who was an outspoken advocate “to move” became a figurehead in many movements themselves. He used his wealth and profile to benefit individuals and groups at large. He fulfilled Make-A-Wish requests, produced a documentary about food waste, and shined a spotlight on injustices around the world.
Prior to his death, Bourdain stood “unhesitatingly and unwaveringly with the women” as he supported his then-girlfriend Asia Argento’s public accusations of rape by Hollywood movie mogul Harvey Weinstein. Although he did not live to see the #MeToo movement’s immense strength and impact, he was unashamedly ready to speak out against his own past behaviors and take responsibility for the toxic conduct that Kitchen Confidential unintendedly promoted.
The man who showed us the transformative power of travel also demonstrated that you can make the world a better place without venturing far from home.
“Skills can be taught. Character you either have or you don’t have.”
Anthony Bourdain inspired us with the notion that happiness, love, and fulfillment we deserve are within reach. His words will continue to speak to men and women from every walk of life, connecting with strangers in deeply intimate ways. Bourdain will forever be regarded as a patron saint of chefs, writers, adventurers, misfits, and more. He’ll be remembered as a hero in the minds of many, but perhaps his defining characteristic is the one he shares with everyone.
“I’m a vain person. I didn’t like what I saw in the mirror.”
Bourdain lived a life that many of us will only dream of, and yet, he never hesitated to take us along for the ride. He invited us to join his adventures, offering the chance to catch a glimpse of the beautiful, tragic, and unfathomable wonders of the world. We rode shotgun for every mile, sat beside him for every meal, and relished every one-on-one moment of reflection, contemplation, and reconciliation with the man. Anthony never let a television set cast us into the role of “audience” with he as the “star”. No, Bourdain made sure that those who followed his escapades were never made to feel uneducated, embarrassed, or unworthy.
He wasn’t a self-obsessed celebrity flaunting his status and success. He was one of us, a truth that he never let the world ignore.
Above all else, Anthony Bourdain was human and ultimately fell victim to a sickness that so many of us share. We may not have ever met the man, but we grieved his loss like the death of a close friend. A friend whom we loved. A friend who suffered in silence unbeknownst to the millions that trailed his every footstep across the globe. Far too often, the talented souls of our world are taken from us too soon, and while no more tragic than any other means of death, suicide leaves us with a distinctly painful heartbreak.
Mental health is stigmatized, despite the fact that so many men, women, and children suffer from depression, anxiety, and a myriad of other traumatic illnesses that are never just simply “in our heads”. Even clinical terms are mere placeholders for the true definitions of these diseases. Each affliction, no matter how common, affects us in unique ways based on our biology, personal experiences, and environment.
The grim reality is that mental illness does not discriminate. Its shadow can haunt the wealthy and successful just as severely as the disenfranchised. When we lose a celebrity to suicide, it’s as shocking as it is unsettling. Why would someone who has it all, who has “the life”, possibly endure such emotional instability that they could willingly trade fortune and fame for the dark unknown?
The answer to this question is forever lost through the act. It’s up to us to recognize this darkness in others and help guide them back to the light.
There are hundreds of Bourdain quotes that could inspire us to stay hopeful of tomorrow. But instead of letting the wise words of a man changed by travel linger in our minds, we should, instead, look to words from the hardened chef.
Though we may aspire to be Anthony Bourdain, we can only hope that we are fortunate enough to see the scars and successes of our past the way Tony did. Before the debut of world-famous “Anthony Bourdain”, Tony took stock of his life and summed up his journey with a final poignant reflection to close Kitchen Confidential.
“It’s been an adventure. We took some casualties over the years. Things got broken. Things got lost. But I wouldn’t have missed it for the world.”
If you or someone you know has thoughts of self-harm or suicide, help is available right now. The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline provides free, confidential support for anyone in distress 24/7. Call 1-800-273-8255 to speak with an advocate today and get the help that you deserve.
featured image from @anthonybourdain Instagram
This article was originally published 6/8/20
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