It is with extraordinary sadness we can confirm the death of our friend and colleague, Anthony Bourdain. 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’s story is one of highs and lows, of a deep epicurean appreciation for everything that’s authentic in life and of the darkness that eventually overcame him. He spent two decades working his way up from the bowels of the restaurant industry to a position as executive chef at now-shuttered Manhattan bistro Brasserie Les Halles, serving up steak tartare and escargot to the Park Avenue elite. He then turned around and stuck a chef’s knife into that career with an unsolicited submission to The New Yorker, in which he laid out the philosophy celebrating the wild and sometimes dangerous side of the culinary world that drove his work. In it, he wrote:
That essay, “Don’t Eat Before Reading This”—which is an eloquent, highly recommended read, by the way—ran in the magazine in April of 1999, and the following year it was adapted into a bestselling memoir, Kitchen Confidential. That book established Bourdain as a “bad boy” of the culinary world, a tattooed, foul-mouthed ex-addict who despised pretension and what he saw as the empty commercialism of celebrity-chef culture. In 2001, he followed up Kitchen Confidential with another book, A Cook’s Tour, which was released alongside a TV show of the same name produced by the Food Network.
He would continue to refine that formula over the next 16 years, in a series of globe-trotting travel shows for the Travel Channel (No Reservations, 2005-2012, The Layover, 2011-2013) and later CNN (Parts Unknown, 2013-2018). On his shows—in which he was an active, creative force, writing voice-overs, scouting locations, and working with cinematographers as well as appearing on camera—Bourdain advocated for so-called “peasant foods,” positing that a good meal eaten on a plastic stool is as worthy of respect as an expensive gourmet tasting menu at a Michelin-starred restaurant. In 2016, the show scored its biggest guest yet: then-President Barack Obama, who joined Bourdain for a simple meal of pho and beer in Hanoi.
But although his life as a travel host appeared glamorous and exotic from the outside, it could also be profoundly lonely. As Bourdain told The New Yorker for a lengthy, also recommended profile that ran last year: “I change location every two weeks. I’m not a cook, nor am I a journalist. The kind of care and feeding required of friends, I’m frankly incapable of. I’m not there ... For 15 years, more or less, I’ve been traveling two hundred days a year. I make very good friends a week at a time.”
Always busy, Bourdain was working when he died, his body found by his friend and frequent Parts Unknown guest star Eric Ripert as the crew prepared for another day of filming. A lover of cinema as well as food, just last week Bourdain wrote a column for The Hollywood Reporter about his experience shooting an upcoming episode of the show with legendary cinematographer Christopher Doyle and director Asia Argento. In it, he wrote:
We spent hours eating and drinking and talking about a shared affection for a “dirtier,” more natural, more reactive shooting style, all while sitting in Hong Kong’s dai pai dongs. These casual, open-air food stalls represent the way the city used to eat. At dai pai dongs like Keung Kee Dai Pai Dong in Sham Shui Po—a traditional, less affluent, dense section of the city—cheap, delicious food is served. Pull up a plastic stool, crack a beer and fire up the wok.
He also emerged in the last year as an outspoken ally of the #MeToo movement, fearlessly criticizing powerful men in Hollywood and in the culinary world for their complicity in the culture of sexual harassment and assault that has marred those two industries. Bourdain is survived by Argento, whom he had been dating since last year; his 11-year-old daughter Ariane, for whom he wrote a cookbook in 2016; and his two ex-wives.
Sean O’Neal spoke to Bourdain for The A.V. Club for a typically funny, insightful interview in 2008.
If you or someone you know is contemplating suicide, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255.