On the morning of June 8, the world, including myself, logged on to the Web to find that famed chef, author, traveler, TV host and CNN stalwart Anthony Bourdain had committed suicide. Unlike many other celebrity deaths, after the initial shock wore off, a genuine and deep sadness set in.
I would never again be able to travel the world vicariously accompanied by Bourdain’s wit, unique insight and effusive warmth. He lived a life that I considered perfect: He traveled the world, ate good food, met interesting people and was paid handsomely for all of it.
However, his suicide was a terse reminder that although the lives of strangers may seem to be perfect on the outside, we often cannot see the subtle signs of torment that may haunt their souls behind closed doors.
As I witness the seemingly endless tributes for Bourdain and the outpouring of grief following his loss, it is clear that the qualities that made him stand out had also led him to a dark and quiet struggle against his own demons.
Bourdain was not like many other TV hosts. Along with his biting wit – or perhaps the source of it – was a melodramatic and cynical undertone that hinted of a mix of nostalgia and depression, and a deep familiarity with the dark side of the human condition.
He was notoriously honest about his own shortcomings, his past struggles with substance abuse as well as the dark underbelly of the industry he had labored in for decades. It was this brutal honesty and assessment of himself, his lack of pretension and moral superiority, that made him so relateable to others.
What made Anthony Bourdain so loved, however, was his humanism, evident in the constant humility and warmth that characterized his interactions with others. He incessantly traveled throughout the world, and seemed to have a special fondness for Asian cuisines – most particularly, perhaps, Vietnamese cuisine. But regardless of which country he was in, he always appeared to be at home and treated his local hosts and the many individuals he came across, with genuine affection and respect, regardless of their status in life.
What separated his television show from the myriad others that showcased travel and food was a deep insight into both the beautiful and the gritty of the societies and countries he experienced. This rare authenticity stemmed from his professional backgrounds as a chef, his almost insatiable reservoir of intellectual curiosity and a remarkable ability to critically think and process his experiences.
Anthony Bourdain’s existence and the fact that he was given a platform made the world a better place. His death is a loss for the world
Anthony Bourdain deserves our grief. His existence and the fact that he was given a platform made the world a better place. His death is a loss for the world.
However, the most productive way that fans of his work can process his grief is to take valuable lessons from his life. The first lesson is to understand the type of desperation that had seized him in his final days and recognize the truly damaging impact of depression on the human psyche. If we can recognize the signs of this in those in our lives who may be quietly struggling, it will allow us to take proactive measures to prevent the tragedy that had befallen Bourdain.
The other lesson we can hope to derive from this is to follow the many positive personal examples he set that made him such a valuable contribution to the world: his intelligence, curiosity, lack of pretension, humility and a deep and genuine love for other human beings that knew no political or cultural boundaries. His spirit of generosity and empathy will undoubtedly be deeply missed by the millions he touched with his life’s work.