Anthony Bourdain dead of suicide at 61

Oh dear; of all the food writers and broadcasters I know, Anthony Bourdain was my favorite. I remember reading Kitchen Confidential, and was both repulsed (at what goes on in kitchens) and enthralled (at the stories and his pull-no-punches prose).  After that I didn’t read any of his books, but I watched his various food-show series as often as I could.

Compared to all the mediocre video food bloggers out there, who roll their eyes and practically have an orgasm when they put a toothsome morsel in their gob, Bourdain simply let the food, and his low-key reactions, speak for itself. And his taste was impeccable: he liked a good burger as much as he liked gourmet food, and, to tell the truth, he was a writer about everyday food, not haute cuisine. I found that congenial, for I’m not a gourmet but, as A. J. Liebling said, “a feeder.”

For the last five years Bourdain worked for CNN, whose obituary is the longest this morning.

CNN confirmed Bourdain’s death on Friday and said the cause of death was suicide.

“It is with extraordinary sadness we can confirm the death of our friend and colleague, Anthony Bourdain,” the network said in a statement Friday morning. “His love of great adventure, new friends, fine food and drink and the remarkable stories of the world made him a unique storyteller. His talents never ceased to amaze us and we will miss him very much. Our thoughts and prayers are with his daughter and family at this incredibly difficult time.”

Bourdain was in France working on an upcoming episode of his award-winning CNN series “Parts Unknown.” His close friend Eric Ripert, the French chef, found Bourdain unresponsive in his hotel room Friday morning.

I can’t imagine why he would kill himself. Yes, depressives often “present well,” hiding their darkness from their friends and colleagues, but I’ve never heard a report that he was depressed, and, as far as I know, he didn’t admit it. He was a big druggie in his youth, and a smoker, but he kicked the drugs, as far as I know.  Perhaps we’ll know some day.

Business Insider reports that, like Kate Spade, the suicide was by hanging, and gives more details:

Bourdain was born in New York City and grew up in New Jersey. He would have been 62 on June 25. Despite his success, Bourdain was known to struggle with drug addiction and had a history of heroin use.

“I was an unhappy soul, with a huge heroin and then crack problem,” Bourdain said in The Guardian interview. “I hurt, disappointed and offended many, many, many people and I regret a lot. It’s a shame I have to live with.”

Bourdain is survived by a daughter and by his girlfriend, the Italian actress Asia Argento. Argento had become a vocal critic of the Hollywood film producer Harvey Weinstein, whom she accused of sexual assault.

His suicide would be the second high-profile such death in the first week of June, after the designer Kate Spade hanged herself on Tuesday.

In the meantime, here he is in his prime: in Paris for the “No Reservations” series. At 19:35 he goes to my favorite Paris bistro, Chez Denise, where I ate twice just a few weeks ago. After his huge blanquette de veau, he tucks into my favorite dessert there, the baba au rhum with whipped cream. The man knew quality food!

Here’s his last original tweet from his Twitter feed (he had 7.4 million followers). It’s “The House of the Rising Sun” sung in Cantonese, apparently for one of his shows.

 

66 Comments

  1. Lurker111
    Posted June 8, 2018 at 7:29 am | Permalink

    Semi-off-topic: For the second time this morning, I’ve noticed and noted the word “gob.” There’s a term for this kind of coincidence, but it escapes me.

    • ThyroidPlanet
      Posted June 8, 2018 at 7:43 am | Permalink

      That means something!

    • Luis Servin
      Posted June 8, 2018 at 11:47 am | Permalink

      Synchronicity: the simultaneous occurrence of events that appear significantly related but have no discernible causal connection.

  2. Linda K
    Posted June 8, 2018 at 7:30 am | Permalink

    He was an atheist, I heard some years ago. That makes suicide all the more mind-numbing.

    • ChrisS
      Posted June 9, 2018 at 12:46 am | Permalink

      As atheists-I assume most of us here are- does that make us somewhat more prone to suicide, do you think?

      Does anyone know whether there’s been any studies into this?

      • Linda K
        Posted June 9, 2018 at 2:05 pm | Permalink

        I’ve wondered the same thing. No evidence of any studies, just my own speculation. Believers think they’re “going to a better place” — atheists know this is it and that should make them less prone to suicide….

  3. Stephen
    Posted June 8, 2018 at 7:32 am | Permalink

    Good. Hated the guy for torturing animals.

    • Posted June 8, 2018 at 7:34 am | Permalink

      Ah, here we have another rude person taking joy in the death of another. Stephen, you’ll never comment here again. Go to another site, where you’ll simultaneously raise the tone of this one and lower the tone of your destination.

    • Marta
      Posted June 8, 2018 at 8:42 am | Permalink

      How ludicrously unpleasant of you.

      In person, Tony was warm, kind, generous and funny.

      Professionally and publicly, he was a genius, and the hole he’s leaving behind is like a moon crater.

  4. ThyroidPlanet
    Posted June 8, 2018 at 7:42 am | Permalink

    His name was dropped here just the other day.

    I was going to say “so what” to his notion that you should never eat brunch – or whatever it was.

    I think that’s part of his charm – edgy, doesn’t care what your opinion is, yet evinced a delight in food, and got me to think about it.

    • Filippo
      Posted June 8, 2018 at 4:57 pm | Permalink

      Re: his view on brunch: I gather one should never eat breakfast after a certain time, nor eat lunch before a certain time.

  5. Tom Czarny
    Posted June 8, 2018 at 7:46 am | Permalink

    Oh no. When author Jim Harrison died the first thing I did was watch Bourdain’s No Reservations episode featuring Harrison. Lovely, lyrical and evocative, just what I needed at the time. I’m so sad about Bourdain’s passing and the pain he was struggling with that brought it about.

    • Ken Kukec
      Posted June 8, 2018 at 8:54 am | Permalink

      I remember Harrison’s “The Raw and the Cooked” column for Esquire. Harrison was a regular at a waterfront oyster bar I worked at in Key West on the Seventies, when he was hanging out down here with Tom McGuane.

  6. Michael Fisher
    Posted June 8, 2018 at 7:57 am | Permalink

    08:26 Three French lads in Le Royal [7th]: “Did you see that freak with the cowboy boots? Who wears cowboy boots today? Not even Americans!” LOL

  7. Posted June 8, 2018 at 8:00 am | Permalink

    It is truly a sad day today.

  8. Mike
    Posted June 8, 2018 at 8:01 am | Permalink

    I have never seen his programmes on this side of the Pond, but i like his description of the food and the Rum Ba Ba is to die for, My kind of food show, reminds me in a way of Keith Floyd ,just throw it all in a pot drink wine while its cooking and consume when ready and your half pissed.lol

  9. Posted June 8, 2018 at 8:03 am | Permalink

    A friend hanged herself some years ago – after having a second child… I did not discover until a long time later as she was not in the UK, & it still makes me feel slightly nauseous thinking of that & her poor family. She died in the ICU where she had nursed.

  10. mfdempsey1946
    Posted June 8, 2018 at 8:11 am | Permalink

    Since the Harvey Weinstein scandal broke, releasing a flood of additional sexual abuse reports from numerous women in various sectors of life who finally felt empowered to tell their stories, Anthony Bourdain was active in lending vocal support to both the #MeToo movement and to his girlfriend, actress and director Asia Argento, one of the most prominent of the film figures whose revelations brought down Weinstein.

    Bourdain’s many unflinching statements and his appearances in support of her and others made him appear to be in his prime, full of vigor and fire as well as deeply engaged with life in general and his own in particular.

    If clinical depression proves to be the cause of his death and the dismaying way that it happened, this should be a reminder of how easily people who suffer deeply from this debilitating condition can completely mask it even from the most probing gazes.

  11. Michael Fisher
    Posted June 8, 2018 at 8:20 am | Permalink

    22:15: Baba au rhum – large enough to have its own national anthem + flag

  12. Randall Schenck
    Posted June 8, 2018 at 8:23 am | Permalink

    Very sad. I watched many of his shows on CNN. One of the real adventurers.

  13. bbenzon
    Posted June 8, 2018 at 8:26 am | Permalink

    Sad, very sad. I loved Parts Unknown. Here’s a wonderful 2 and and half hour conversation he had with Joe Rogan five years ago: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=28Qzxz5wsA0

  14. GBJames
    Posted June 8, 2018 at 8:26 am | Permalink

    An unhappy start to the day. He was the only really interesting food-tv-guy out there. The universe is not a fair place.

  15. Ken Kukec
    Posted June 8, 2018 at 8:27 am | Permalink

    Summer before last, I spent some time with my bestie, a chef who teaches at a culinary institute. Two of us grew up in the restaurant business together, starting out in our teens as busboys and dishwashers. There was a bout of flu making the rounds through the school staff while I was visiting, so I ended up pulling the whites on and helping him with a couple catering jobs, even backed him up at a cooking demonstration one time.

    While I was hanging out waiting for him to finish up some paperwork after classes one day, I wondered into the school’s library and chanced upon Kitchen Confidential, which I’d always meant to get around to reading. Took it back to his place and read it over the next two days. My buddy (who’d read the book when it first came out) and I laughed our asses off over Bourdain’s stories and how they reminded us of some of the insane chefs we’d known in our youth.

    Bourdain was smart, funny, hip, and a damn fine prose stylist. Far as I could tell, he had the best gig going in either cooking or show business. Feels like shit hearing he’s offed himself.

    • Ken Kukec
      Posted June 8, 2018 at 9:01 am | Permalink

      “wandered”

    • Posted June 8, 2018 at 9:25 am | Permalink

      Just got Kitchen Confidential on my Kindle. Thanks.

      • Mark R.
        Posted June 8, 2018 at 12:01 pm | Permalink

        You’re sure to enjoy it…

      • Ken Kukec
        Posted June 8, 2018 at 6:46 pm | Permalink

        Be interested to know what you think when you’ve read it, jblilie.

      • Derek Freyberg
        Posted June 8, 2018 at 10:17 pm | Permalink

        Try his novels also – “Gone Bamboo” and “Bone in the Throat”.

  16. Liz
    Posted June 8, 2018 at 8:34 am | Permalink

    This is so sad and shocking to me. I loved Anthony Bourdain. I watched No Reservations on a regular basis from 2007 to 2010. He explored the cultures and people along with the food. He had a certain charm about him. So sorry to hear this.

  17. Diana MacPherson
    Posted June 8, 2018 at 8:43 am | Permalink

    I don’t even see suicide as mental illness. Sometimes it makes sense. In this world today where you isolated by voices that so often proclaim what a loser you are and how wrong you are for being born as you were born, I can see why suicide seems like the most viable option.

    • Nicholas K.
      Posted June 8, 2018 at 9:16 am | Permalink

      I agree. In addition, the recent report from CDC about the rise of suicide over last 2 decades suggests that other factors are involved. Not everyone who dies by suicide should be considered to be in the grip of mental illness (even a transient episode of depression). Everyone is depressed at times and for various reasons — and they may even kill themselves. This is not the same as clinical depression, a mental illness. The CDC report also suggests that a sense of despair, due to job loss, economic anxiety, or romantic situation is behind many suicides. Economist Angus Deaton also wrote about how despair leads to suicide (or, people shortening their lives via alcohol and drug use due to their despair). I admired Bourdain very much, but he also struck me as having some demons. He wrote of his ongoing guilt over the people he had wronged in his drug-using days. I don’t think he ever forgave himself. I do not think he was mentally ill.

      • Filippo
        Posted June 8, 2018 at 5:08 pm | Permalink

        “Economist Angus Deaton also wrote about how despair leads to suicide . . . .”

        Could I trouble you for info/a link where he said that?

        (I wonder if Milton Friedman ever held forth – as a humanitarian as opposed to as an economist – on suicide.)

    • Liz
      Posted June 8, 2018 at 9:31 am | Permalink

      I enjoy your comments. I suffered from severe headaches several times a week in the seventh grade. I finally went to the doctor and he gave me pamphlets on migraines. It was soon after that that one of my best friends stole my pamphlets at summer camp as a joke. They somehow got lost and I was really upset and stressed. It was very odd but right after that summer, she began to suffer from migraines and mine completely disappeared. They were terrible. I’ve thought about that a bit since I had read your comments on that. I’m glad you were born.

    • barn owl
      Posted June 8, 2018 at 10:43 am | Permalink

      I’ve heard that requests for euthanasia on the grounds of suffering from depression have been granted in the Netherlands. If this is indeed true, then there must be some acceptance that a mentally competent/rational person can make a decision to commit suicide, which is not necessarily based on physical pain or debilitation.

      I also very much appreciate your voice and contributions here.

    • Posted June 8, 2018 at 9:21 pm | Permalink

      Well said, Diana.

  18. rgsherr
    Posted June 8, 2018 at 9:08 am | Permalink

    Sub

  19. Bob Lundgren
    Posted June 8, 2018 at 9:59 am | Permalink

    I remember an episode of his many years ago in Beirut, Lebanon where the bombs stared falling on the second day he was there. The last part of the episode was focused on he and the crew working with their “fixer” to get out of the country. He was freaked out by this as one can imagine. There was a noticeable change in his show after that. Up until then I thought the show was a bit snarky and he enjoyed playing up the bad boy image. After that he seemed to have developed a social conscience and the shows seemed to increasingly address social issues wherever he traveled, which made the show much more appealing for me.

    • Luis Servin
      Posted June 8, 2018 at 11:51 am | Permalink

      Yup!! That is the episode that I think about when his name is mentioned. It’s a heartbreaking episode. You can really tell he was torn at having to appear impartial in that situation.

    • Mark R.
      Posted June 8, 2018 at 12:05 pm | Permalink

      I think that’s the episode that won NR an Emmy.

  20. Posted June 8, 2018 at 11:05 am | Permalink

    How very sad. I must confess I found him a bit irritating in a “I’m rich and can travel and you can’t” kind of way, but he was a fine writer and if one is lucky enough to be able to travel, his work becomes much more relevant. I did not watch his shows much at all but have read some of his work and I always liked how, despite the fact that only the wealthy (or near wealthy) could enjoy the world’s cuisine as he did, he did not have a elitist view of food.

    He will be missed. I feel for his family and his world of admirers. I hope he died because he was just tired of living and not because he was mentally ill. For some reason I don’t wish to explore, that matters to me.

  21. Mike Cracraft
    Posted June 8, 2018 at 11:07 am | Permalink

    This must have hit his buddy Eric Ripert pretty hard. They were a great duo. I saw them here in Houston about 3 years ago when they came through on their tour. It was a super show.
    We’ll all miss him and will never forget his presence.

  22. Posted June 8, 2018 at 11:12 am | Permalink

    I’ve been a fan of both No Reservations and Parts Unknown for years and years. Sad. The guy was 13 months younger than I.

  23. nicky
    Posted June 8, 2018 at 11:22 am | Permalink

    I don’t want to really comment on the death of Bourdon, but he possibly had good reasons.
    E.g. Maybe he did not want to live through the ravages of old age, becoming a shadow of his old self. Henry de Montherland (IIRC) gave that as the reason for his suicide on his 60th birthday. I know several who plan to do this, all of them atheists, btw.

    No Jerry, I beg to disagree, you are a gourmet. What is a gourmet? Someone who loves good food, ‘honest’ food, not necessarily wishy washy, whimsy food.
    Makes me think of the animated movie ‘Ratatouille’, where the Great Food Critic was swept away by a simple, but honest, ratatouille. Great film, btw.

    • Jenny Haniver
      Posted June 8, 2018 at 3:01 pm | Permalink

      He could have taken his life for any number of reasons, not simply depression or some other mental illness, Weltschmerz, or Young Werther disease, though I doubt that he was stricken with either of the latter two.

      He could have contracted an incurable fatal disease (diagnosed or not)which would have been futile to fight, which drove him to kill himself; e.g., any of the transmissible subacute spongiform encephalopathies, such as Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease, which killed Ballanchine, or its variant, mad cow disease — given that he was a chef and true omnivore, the latter could be a legitimate possibility. But we’ll learn the cause and factors fairly soon.

      Even if he didn’t know he’d developed an incurable disease, the workings of the disease on his body and mind could have driven him to suicide. I think of Robin Williams, who certainly had his demons to battle,mental illness and drugs; but given that Lewy Body dementia was determined post-mortem, I’d certainly think that that disease was a critical factor — and there again goes free will.

      • Mark Sturtevant
        Posted June 8, 2018 at 5:11 pm | Permalink

        Given the puzzle of death by suicide in this case, there is the realistic possibility that his death was actually an accident on his part. Like David Carradine.

        • Jenny Haniver
          Posted June 8, 2018 at 6:43 pm | Permalink

          Yikes! I hadn’t thought of that!

          • Jenny Haniver
            Posted June 8, 2018 at 6:51 pm | Permalink

            To die during an act of auto-erotic self-asphyxiation,then to have one’s corpse discovered in flagrante delicto, I think is an ignominious way to exit the world.

      • Christopher
        Posted June 8, 2018 at 5:44 pm | Permalink

        Williams came immediately to mind for me as well. It is impossible for me to grasp what drives someone who is successful, famous, and wealthy to do such a thing, compared to someone like me who is the exact opposite. I see so much in life that I want to see or do and can’t grasp giving up on that, even though I know that my poverty and failings will almost certainly prevent that. But I guess that’s the point. Even with a note, you can’t grasp what’s going on in the other person’s mind. I do wish, however, that there could have been another way for them to go. Physician-assisted suicide, at least to me, seems more honorable, and while I would mourn both Williams and Bourdain either way, I would be able to accept it easier.

        • Linda K
          Posted June 9, 2018 at 2:13 pm | Permalink

          My thoughts have gone the same way, same situation as yours. I’d rather hear that Bourdain was found naked than that he was suddenly overcome with the urge to kill himself in such a barbaric manner.

    • Filippo
      Posted June 8, 2018 at 5:10 pm | Permalink

      The term “gourmand” comes to mind.

    • Posted June 8, 2018 at 9:29 pm | Permalink

      Your mention of ratatouille made me smile as it brought to mind one of Anthony’s old episodes. He was with a number of great chefs in France, I think it was, and he was tasked with cooking a dish on an old stove. So he carefully constructed ratatouille, cooking each type of veggie separately, so as not to overcook anything, and served it elegantly piled high. This well known female French chef remarked that he had made a very attractive dish of vegetables, but it was not ratatouille! He took it in good humour of course.

  24. Jon Gallant
    Posted June 8, 2018 at 11:43 am | Permalink

    William Styron’s powerful memoir of clinical depression is called “Darkness Visible: A Memoir of Madness”. He fell into depression after giving up self-medication by alcohol, a pattern that is not unfamiliar. The book is disappointing in that it doesn’t explain how he finally emerged from the period of “darkness visible”.

  25. Roger
    Posted June 8, 2018 at 1:15 pm | Permalink

    A chef that wouldn’t look down on a baloney and mustard sandwich is a cool dude in my book. RIP buddy.

    • Filippo
      Posted June 8, 2018 at 5:17 pm | Permalink

      My aunt’s favorite sandwich was mustard and onion. Her favorite fruit was a Granny Smith apple. Parsimonious culinary astringents, perhaps.

    • Posted June 8, 2018 at 9:39 pm | Permalink

      His favourite thing to eat was a hotdog.

  26. Posted June 8, 2018 at 1:57 pm | Permalink

    This is terribly sad.

  27. Jenny Haniver
    Posted June 8, 2018 at 3:38 pm | Permalink

    “Fresh Air” is reprising an interview with Bourdain today, conducted by Dave Davies, recorded in 2016: https://www.npr.org/2018/06/08/618214191/fresh-air-remembers-anthony-bourdain-a-chef-devoted-to-global-street-food.

    I think it’s eminently worth a listen.

    • Larry Smith
      Posted June 8, 2018 at 6:05 pm | Permalink

      Yes, I heard part of that Fresh Air interview, it was very good. In it, Bourdain also explained his disdain for brunch, along these lines, I think: no restaurant person wants to work at that awkward time, and the thought of making 30 omelettes in a row, scads of French toast, scraping waffles from waffle irons, 30 lbs of homestyle potatoes (you get the point), annoyed the heck out of him. Also, he wondered why people were so willing to spend $22 for a few eggs and bacon and a mimosa with a strawberry in it, and think it was elegant. I think it offended his culinary sensibilities.

      What made that segment especially poignant was his recounting at the same time the joy of making the same sort of silly breakfast pancakes and French toast for his young daughter…

  28. barn owl
    Posted June 8, 2018 at 3:57 pm | Permalink

    I usually think of Gordon Ramsay as a vituperative, profane, cartoon-Tasmanian-devil-type person, but his tweet today in response to Bourdain’s death was quite measured, and included crisis hotline numbers for the UK and US.

    • Filippo
      Posted June 8, 2018 at 5:20 pm | Permalink

      It’s admirable for him to have done that; I’m glad to give him credit for it. But, I would not for one moment submit myself to his tyrannical whims. As far as I’m concerned, he is the culinary world’s Donald Trump.

      • Christopher
        Posted June 8, 2018 at 5:47 pm | Permalink

        If you’ve only seen him on that dreadful Hell’s Kitchen, I’d agree but to see him seriously try to assist restaurants in turning around as he does in Kitchen Nighthmares…he’s more complex than tRump, and nowhere near as shallow, stupid, or self-absorbed.

  29. Greg Geisler
    Posted June 8, 2018 at 7:20 pm | Permalink

    I have two things to add.
    When someone commits suicide there is often the reaction of incredulity. “How or why could he have done this? He had success, money, he was loved. It was a selfish act.” Etc.

    As someone who has suffered from depression for his entire adult life I can offer insights. Brain chemistry is such that it becomes impossible to reason. You reach states that feel as if you are drowning and you are desperately trying to get to the surface to breathe. If you can’t get there you reach for a way to escape the tremendous terror that you are experiencing.

    Bourdain obviously touched many people. He was a celebrity. But his suffering is equal to every other human being that committed suicide today. Veterans commit suicide at the rate of 20 per day. No average person gets a mention in the media.

    So, a moral question: does the amount of other people that know you diminish the suffering and loss of those anonymous citizens who kill themselves every day?

  30. Posted June 8, 2018 at 9:32 pm | Permalink

    I’ve read Kitchen Confidential and Medium Raw, and still have VHS tapes of his old shows. The antics! I guess I won’t be throwing out those tapes just yet. 😦

  31. stephen
    Posted June 9, 2018 at 4:04 am | Permalink

    I am very sad indeed to learn this bad news. I have a restaurant background myself and bought “Kitchen Confidential” when it was published,followed by copies for my chefs and a couple of industry mates.Please note that I am not the unpleasant character responsible for comment 3 above…


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