It pains me that apart from a few passing allusions to the man, I only really devoted one single post to Anthony Bourdain in this blog’s almost-thirteen-year existence, that post being a cheekily petty potshot at him for supporting a fellow chef’s dubiously named (and since shuttered) venture. In all truth, Anthony Bourdain was a bona fide hero of mine. His style was the perfect blend of smart, funny, cool, discriminating and outspoken, and he was a master storyteller and, obviously, pretty handy in the kitchen. Beyond being cool, funny and insouciant, he wrote from the heart, spoke truth to power and was a frequent champion of the underdog. He was a tireless advocate for doing, seeing and trying new things and broadening horizons. News of his suicide, this morning, completely took the wind out of my sails. I’m sure I’m not alone, in that capacity.
Like most, I first came across Bourdain via his now-iconic culinary tell-all, “Kitchen Confidential” at some point in the `90s. While a great read by any standard, having toiled for several summers as a dish-dog in the rear kitchen of the Westhampton iteration of The Barefoot Contessa (long gone), I immediately warmed to not only Bourdain’s acerbic wit, but could completely relate to the context. He captured the dynamic perfectly, but also lifted the veil on a whole culture. Dare I suggest it, Anthony Bourdain –- more so than any other so-called “celebrity chef” -– single-handedly made working in the food industry credibly cool.
His star continued to ascend from there, of course, and I was totally onboard. I dutifully dined in homage at Les Halles on Park Avenue South (his former employer), and followed his trajectory like a fanboy, snapping up each successive book of essays, and even his first weighty cookbook. I even picked up his first crime novel, which was just as entertaining as you’d expect. Shortly afterwards, television snatched him up and he was off and running on a number of different series for various channels until he landed the gig at CNN.
And now, he’s gone. This larger-than-life character who seemed to lead such a singularly charmed, remarkable life, and who spoke so candidly and eloquently, and with such a zest for experience -– takes his own life. It is yet another testament, let alone in the same week as fashion favorite Kate Spade, that we should not be so quick to trust our preconceptions. Fame is clearly no panacea for depression.
As I noted when Chris Cornell of Soundgarden took his own life last year, the knee-jerk reaction upon hearing about such fatalities is “how could they have done this to their own children?” That unanswerable question might lead many to label the act callous and selfish, but as far as I’m concerned, it only underscores the magnitude of the pain the individual must have been in to pursue that otherwise unthinkable path.
I don’t know why Anthony Bourdain killed himself. As much as we all may feel like we knew him, we cannot begin to speculate what he was privately grappling with. I grieve for his loved ones and hope that he has attained peace and realizes how very much he will be missed.