Remembering Anthony Bourdain [CW: Suicide, Substance Abuse]


#1

CONTENT WARNING: Suicide, Substance Abuse

A little over two hours ago I found out that Anthony Bourdain died last night at age 61 after taking his own life. We live in a time where we are so often reminded of the ugliness of the people around us and even more so the people in the spotlight, so hearing that someone as decent as Anthony had passed hit me pretty hard. Ultimately though, the right thing to do seems to me not to mourn the tragedy of his loss as much as seek to celebrate all the light he let into the world.

Anthony, with all his myriad flaws, was a lightbringer. He illuminated the wonders of travel, of different cultures, shined a spotlight on the injustices of the world and lit up the dark times with his charm, personality and wit. He always looked to celebrate the differences in culture, welcomed the unknown, and passionately sought out new experiences while still maintaining a great level of respect for the people and locations he would happen upon. More importantly, he actually took it upon himself to pass on his experiences. He, more than most, realized the enormous responsibility of his platform, and treated it with the care it deserved. Amidst every all night drinking session, every dubious local specialty, every inhaled pack of cigarettes was a deeply caring message of inclusivity, of tolerance, of thoughtfulness.

For all the swagger and bravado he oozed with the attitude of a bass player in a 70’s punk band who somehow managed to live through the cigs, booze and drugs (which, to be fair, he did), that’s what I always left a Bourdain piece with. This strange, almost slightly timid sense of thoughtful worry, as if he realized that the world was simultanously filled with immense beauty but also teetered on the brink of complete catastrophe. Life, and all it might encompass seemed incredibly important to Anthony, and I think it pained him greatly to see the callousness with which so much of it was met. That is what Bourdains work feels like to me, on this day. A plea to the world to stop and realize the beauty of what we have around us as if to say “look! look at what I hold in my hands. this is precious, this is not to be dismissed out of hand”.

I would like to think that he was successful and actually made some people look, made some people pay attention. In a world such as ours, I think we would do well to celebrate those among our departed who let more light into the world than darkness. And that’s what Anthony Bourdain, for all his imperfections, sought out to do. There’s a saying that you should endeavor to leave a place in a better state than you found it. The world may not be a better place today than when Anthony found it, but it sure as hell wasn’t for a lack of trying on his part.


#2

I’ve literally tried not to cry all day over this. Anthony Bourdain’s shows were some of the only joy I could have at my worst times, and still a good way to spend better times. I always got a sense that despite all the anger and bitterness he could ooze, he always found good reasons to be angry or bitter. He didn’t wear cynicism as a style, he sought out the world and tried to feel the weight of it all on his back. It made those moments of scathing commentary real and undetatched from its targets.

And you could always see his joy too. Whether feeding a friend too much spicy food, seeing something amazing for the first time, or just enjoying greasy meat and a beer, he never seemed embarrassed in finding and expressing simple and unrefined joy.

I’m just so sad he couldn’t hold onto that.


#3

God, those sechuan peppers he fed to Eric…

You said it better than I could have ever hoped, my friend. I hope you’re well and coping and ultimately think more on what good Anthony tried to bring the world than this awful fucking tragedy.


#4

It’s fucking rough on social media right now but I can’t keep myself from seeing how much good and joy that grumpy bastard brought people.


#5

I really liked this twitter thread.


#6

I think it’s impossible to walk into any restaurant kitchen and not find a crew of cooks who aren’t well aware of the work Bourdain has done throughout the years. Kitchen Confidential painted this ugly, yet romantic depiction of life in the industry. A Cook’s Tour, No Reservations, and Parts Unknown elucidated completely different worlds than what viewers were used to. And it was never done in a touristy way – every person, every culture, every nation Bourdain came into contact with was treated respectfully and with a sincere, ceaseless curiosity. He rarely made himself the main character; rather he would use his platform to share the natural beauty of Vietnam, the exciting and joyous foods of northern Spain, the irrefutable passion of a soba chef – everyone we saw on his shows was made out to be seen as “human” in spite of any difference the viewer might otherwise obfuscate their perception with.

He came to my city, Detroit, for Parts Unknown a while back, and people were upset that he didn’t show “the good things” about our area. Instead he used the episode to give dignity to those so often ignored by my own communities: amazing food served out of someone’s dilapidated house, a coney dog from a place that only could have come out of old Detroit, urban farmers and lawnmower gangs who simply want to put pride into our city. People in Detroit can be sensitive to ruin porn (we here have seen countless black and white photos of the Packard plant and the train station) and our Parts Unknown episode was originally dismissed as such. But when I look back on it now, I see that the goal wasn’t to show how distraught the city was, but to highlight all the growth and beauty growing directly in spite of it. (And on a personal note, I am still beating myself up five years later over not going to that exact Guns + Butter dinner Bourdain filmed at)

And none of this is even mentioning his fervent support of #MeToo, his championing of Palestinians, his frequent condemnations of Western Colonialism, or the numerous examples of his heartfelt support to those less fortunate than him. It always shocks me when I remember that he didn’t come to prominence until he was well into his 40s. Even so, Bourdain concluded his time on Earth in a way that, I feel, made the world around him better and closer. And a day won’t pass where I don’t miss him being here.


#7

His constant burning hatred and denunciations of Henry Kissinger were great and the first I became aware of him. https://slate.com/news-and-politics/2018/06/anthony-bourdain-really-really-hated-henry-kissinger.html


#8

Honestly just want to say @lassemomme that was a beautiful piece of writing in and of itself and I think he would have appreciated it. I certainly do.


#9

This word gets thrown around a lot I guess but he seemed like such an incredibly authentic guy. Like he genuinely believed that no culture or way of life was any more or less valid than another, and that absorbing as much knowledge as he could from as many places and people as possible was not just a good thing to do, but the best way to reach some sort of actual understanding of the importance of diversity and tolerance and community. For a lot of people like myself, I think we just had an abrupt realization about what shows like No Reservations or Parts Unknown did to offer us some real perspective and positively affect our worldview. It hit me really hard. We need people like him now more than ever.

“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.”


#10

I think another reason his suicide is hitting so hard for some people is that, among many other things, he represented that life doesn’t lose its forward momentum just because you hit a certain age. I’m in my early forties and my favorite part of Kitchen Confidential is near the end where talks about being in his 40s and thinking that all the adventure was over; that he was just going to cook until his body gave out. Then his restaurant sent him to Japan to open a new place. He writes about it with such joy and how happy he was that he got to travel and have a new adventure. When he wrote that chapter he had NO idea that travel and eating would become his entire life, but he was just so grateful for that first trip.

Being my age and seeing that it wasn’t until relatively late in life that Bourdain finally found the things that would make him a “name” or get his message out there really has been a source of energy for me. Bourdain spent more years of his life cutting himself in sweaty kitchens then he did as a world traveler and you could always see his genuine gratefulness to what life had become as opposed to what it used be.

When a man like that reminds you that depression just doesn’t care who you are or how grateful you might be or how talented or rich or whatever, it hurts really bad.


#11

A little late, but I mostly watched No Reservations when we still had cable, but since I was a clueless kid and don’t have cable anymore, I didn’t really appreciate him beyond being a grumpy dude on TV that was eating food, traveling the world and was a lot funnier than the other hosts on TLC.

I went back and watched this episode of Parts Unknown last night and for something billed as a ‘travel show’, this does a better job at showing what Manila is in 45 minutes than most other Western TV shows of its kind. Where other shows would focus on showing the ‘exotic’ stuff or some shit, they showed regular Filipinos and the city they inhabit, and Anthony eats food they cook and talk about their lives. It captures the Filipino experience in Manila so, so well: Okay sometimes, the food is good but boy is it extremely frustrating most days and you have to sacrifice so many things in life to get by. Still, even as things are bad and we’re on the verge of living in a police state, we do always cling on to whatever hope we have left.

Only now did I realize Anthony Bourdain didn’t really visit other places to tour them, he wanted to tell the stories of the people that live in those places, and it’s such a huge bummer he’s gone.


#12

I read an interview with him somewhere once where he said his goal was not to be a tourist, but to be a visitor and a guest. He wanted to engage with everyone he met on equal terms. I always appreciated that in his shows. People are people everywhere you go, and being able to connect to that was a brilliant thing.