Anthony Bourdain died June 8, 2018, an apparent suicide. The news of his death hit me surprisingly hard, as it did to a lot of people I knew from a wide variety of ages and walks of life. His most recent gig was as the host of “Parts Unknown” that was broadcast on CNN, but I have been a fan of his for many years. In addition to his CNN work Bourdain was a writer, hosted several other travel series, and made frequent guest appearances on various food-related shows.
Bourdain was a guilty pleasure of mine. He was a bad boy with a sense of mischief and a huge talent. The man could write. What I admired the most about him, however, was his integrity. In a field ripe with the possibility of ethical lapses, you always felt Bourdain was telling the truth as he saw it and he was always innovative. When you tuned into “Parts Unknown” or any other of his series, like Forest Gump’s box of chocolates, you never knew what you were going to get. Some of his shows were excellent, such as his shows from Beirut and his shows from the Congo. Most of his shows were very good. I felt he sometimes didn’t deliver on some shows, particularly those involving some sort of celebrity chef. He even managed to make a bad show entertaining through a lot of self-deprecating humor. That is what made his show so much fun to watch. It was never a formula and you were always going to get something you hadn’t seen or even thought about out of his trip. He was equally at home with common folks in a particular country or someone with a great deal of fame.
He always alluded to his past drug use and his use of alcohol. You admired him for making a success out of a very bad start in life. As they say now he made some “bad choices”, and you really hoped he was past those bad choices. Some of his shows were a little disturbing, particularly in retrospect. An alcohol-fueled romp through San Francisco comes to mind here. I will enjoy those shows a whole lot less now. They remind me of the dark side of the restaurant culture of excess, and of the price one inevitably pays for spending a large part of their life on the road. It all takes a very heavy toll.
I was very sad to see him come to this end. After watching him for so many years on television, I felt like he was a friend, and I mourn his passing. I wish I could have told him how much I admired his work and how much I admired his struggle even more. I wish I could have said something to him that would have helped him somehow. I suspect many of us share that wish.