Anthony Bourdain's death took everyone by surprise. He was a star of culinary shows and, in recent days, has been working on another episode of his Parts Unknown. Anthony Bourdain traveled the world, discovered unexplored gastronomic traditions, and celebrated success on CNN and worldwide.
Therefore, there was no indication that the world-famous chef would be bothered enough in his personal life to think about the worst. Still, he was found dead by his colleague in a hotel room. He committed suicide. The news on Anthony Bourdain's death soon traveled the world.
Anthony Bourdain's Death Helped Destigmatize Suicide In Media
On June 8th, 2018, Anthony Bourdain's death was announced:
"We have terribly sad news that we need to tell you."
CNN presenter John Berman interrupted the morning program.
"The world-famous chef, bestselling author, award-winning author of Parts Unknown and our friend Anthony Bourdain has died."
For the television that has made Bourdain a global star and which has reported to the world all the worst news of the last four decades, declaring Anthony Bourdain's death has not been an easy task. Not because their author died, but because he killed himself.
Suicide is approached today with two diametrically different clearings, neither of which is good. The first is old-fashioned, but still, present, it considers suicide to be something shameful, a mistake in character that is best not to talk about. In other words, suicide is taboo.
The second approach is more accurate if taken with good measure. Suicide is the worst outcome of a mental illness - so shameful in no way. Depression is no more embarrassing than pneumonia or sprained joints, but it needs to be treated. But suicide should not be talked about, says the school of thought, not because it would be shameful, but because the very fact of talking about it can encourage others, those who are already on the brink, to follow and take their own lives.
This is another reason why going public about Anthony Bourdain's death was so hard.
Evidence for this interpretation dates back to 1774 when an undetermined number of young men dressed in blue trousers and a yellow jacket took a pistol in their hands and killed themselves after reading Goethe's The Sufferings of Young Werther. Mass culture - much more massive than the circulation of Goethe's novel among the then literate German population - allowed the news of the suicide to reach the widest audience.
CNN dedicated almost all of its program on Friday to Anthony Bourdain's death, one of its biggest stars, and at no point did it hide the way he died. CNN reporter Brian Stelter reported.
"Anthony was found dead by a friend this morning in a hotel room in Strasbourg. Anthony hanged himself. "
CNN chief Jeff Zucker has decided that television watching the whole world about Anthony Bourdain's death must speak openly and do everything to help those who might find themselves in a difficult mental situation. The helpline phone number for people with suicidal thoughts was written on the screen all day, talked about by doctors and those who have had similar experiences alone or in their families.
Anthony Bourdain's death helped de-taboo suicide in media discourse.
He Used Food To Find Out What Makes People, Who Are So Different, Similar
In the five years that his documentary series aired on CNN, Bourdain has filmed in eighty countries, more than once in many of them. He traveled the world doing what he loved most and knew so well - discovering unknown places, exploring food, celebrating life, and the diversity of cultures.
His show was only technically a cooking show - Anthony Bourdain knew that people were the easiest to open at the table, and he used food as a ticket to their lives. It wasn't a food series, although there was food in it. It wasn't even a series about travel, though he traveled constantly. It was a series about human nature.
"I'm less interested in cooking, and more in why they cook what they cook and what they also want to tell me"
Bourdain used food to discover what makes people, who are so different, ultimately similar. Packed with references to movies, music, and literature, Parts Unknown was a show about life in all its myriad forms - many of which the world met through Anthony Bourdain's show.
"If you refuse the food you offer, you also refuse the people who offer it to you. The household ritual around the table is one of the primordial ways for people to open up".
But the food was a means, not an end, for this chef.
"I always tell people who take pictures of food and post photos on social media - I hope you spend a lot less time on it than on sex. Because if you neglect sex to take pictures of food, you have completely missed the mark. "
He Was One Of Those People Who Had An Opinion On Everything And Did Not Tolerate Fools
Anthony Bourdain was passionate, emotional, and engaged, although outwardly, he had a cool and cynical armor. He was one of those people who had an opinion on everything and did not tolerate fools. But above all, he was a hero of human curiosity, someone whose warmth and ease of communication opened the interlocutor wherever he traveled.
That combination of human warmth and strong language led him to global popularity and created an army of fans for him.
On several occasions, as he recounted, he accepted food that was obviously not fresh or that he would not have eaten under other circumstances.
"Of course it's worth it, what can happen to you? In the worst case, you'll sit on the toilet a bit and take a round of antibiotics. What you get in return is worth that sacrifice. "
Anthony Bourdain's death is even more tragic as he was bigger than life - women adored him, and men wanted to be like him. Hedonism was part of that philosophy of life. He often said:
"Your body is not a temple, but an amusement park. Enjoy the ride! "
His appearance and life experience, the authenticity of his story, bought him a ticket to be the only one allowed to swear on the CNN program.
But though spicy, his language was more poetic than anything you can see on any television. Because Anthony Bourdain was a master of searching for the answers that many seek.
"I travel all over the world to ask - where is home? Some were born with the answer to that question. But some of us have to dig through countless broken pieces to try to put together an answer. "
His home was New York, where Anthony Bourdain's death is still greatly mourned today. Flowers, candles, and fan messages appeared shortly after the announcement of Anthony Bourdain's death in front of the Les Halles restaurant, a couple of blocks from the New York Stock Exchange on Wall Street, where he spent most of his professional career.
Bourdain was born in 1956 in New Jersey, and life quickly took him to the kitchen.
He was barely 17 when he started washing dishes in a restaurant. But his culinary passion was not born on this continent - young Anthony Bourdain spent summers with relatives in France, where he gained a love of food and cooking. Therefore, from plate washer, he advanced rapidly to become the chef of the fine restaurant Les Halles in Downtown.
Anthony Bourdain's Death Almost Came In His 20s
But the celebrity chef's career had a dark past - at the age of 19, Bourdain was addicted to cocaine and soon to heroin.
"I should have died in my twenties. It's pure luck I didn't. How happy does a man have to be to survive the 1980s in New York as a heroin addict? "
He said later:
"I know what the life of a man who wakes up in the morning looks like and the first thing that goes through his head is - where will I get a new dose."
Anthony Bourdain was partly cured of his addiction (he never gave up alcohol, but he reduced it to a reasonable level) and never hid that torturous chapter of his life.
Instead, he wanted to talk about his demons, hoping to help others overcome addiction. In an interview with CNN, he revealed something that most never even think about.
"I often think about how much my addiction has cost in the lives of others. How many young Colombians - or others on the route where drugs are smuggled into America - were killed, probably in horrific circumstances, to supply me with the next shot? It's terrible, and I often wonder how responsible I am for those lost lives. "
Anthony Bourdain managed to find "better sides of his nature" and overcome addiction. From a junkie on the verge of death, he became one of the most successful people in what he does. And that was what he loved most.
However, he eventually lost a battle with ongoing depression.
The Arrival Of Anthony Bourdain Transformed CNN
As a successful New York chef, he sent a short essay to The New Yorker magazine in 1999, in which he revealed many dirty craft secrets shockingly and entertainingly. He did not hope to be published by the most influential newspaper in the world.
The New Yorker surprised him. Don't eat before you read this was the title of his text.
The New Yorker at the time could not have known that such "bait" titles in the age of digital journalism would build careers and wealth for many - it was not until 1999. But like all later, Don't do this! or You have to! headlines on portals, Bourdain's essay became an instant hit.
So successful that the author turned it into the book Kitchen Confidential the following year, which became a bestseller and still sells well today, 20 years later.
Anthony Bourdain was no longer just a cook, chef, or former addict. He became a star. This was followed by a contract for cooking television Food Network, then for the Travel Channel.
The rock star of the culinary world or Elvis of the Bad Boy Chefs quickly found his way to the audience, and it was getting bigger. Relatively late - already in his forties - Bourdain became famous. He gained global fame when in 2013, he signed a contract with CNN for the series Parts Unknown.
The arrival of Anthony Bourdain turned out to have transformed CNN more than Bourdain. It was a very unusual move, and many wondered what the hell the cooking show was doing on CNN. How will the chef adjust to CNN?
Television has decided to break out of the closed circle of breaking news and politics - they have included documentaries, content about culture, and how people live in their program, looking for another way to tell the story. And they bet on Anthony Bourdain.
They couldn't have done better - after the first season, Bourdain's Parts Unknown won Peabody, the most prestigious television award in America. Five Emmys followed.
Bourdain took two well-known formats - a cooking show and a travel show - and merged them. But that's not what made his amalgam successful - the key was that Anthony Bourdain started talking to people and involving them as the main actors of each of his shows. In the end, it was not a series about cooking, or the chef, or about the place he came to - but about the people he talked to.
Tony Was Pure Curiosity, The Basis Of Journalism
Anthony Bourdain dreaded the idea of being called a journalist, even though he actually was:
"I'm a happy chef who can tell stories. I'm certainly not a journalist. I'm not even a chef anymore. I am the one who tells the stories."
He had a unique ability to tell a story that will not be unbearably simplified, but about which he will not even write a dissertation, explained his friend and colleague from CNN Anderson Cooper.
Whatever Bourdain said about himself, the force of journalistic instinct was strong in him. As he said at the Peabody Awards:
"We ask very simple questions: What makes you happy? What do you eat? What do you like to cook? And anywhere in the world to come and ask these very simple questions, we get amazing answers. "
The questions went beyond those cited by Anthony Bourdain but were always simple, devoid of prejudice, and open to further acquaintance with the interlocutor. "What are you afraid of ?, Are you optimistic ?, Why are you ashamed?" are some of the simple questions that Bourdain asked at the table and mostly got answers that went beyond the range of the question itself.
His CNN colleague Don Lemon in the hours after Bourdain's death asked:
"Anthony Bourdain was a better journalist than many of us could ever be. It came naturally to him. He was pure curiosity. Isn't that the basis of journalism - curiosity? "
Trying To Teach Americans Not To Be Afraid Of Other People
The ability to make the world smaller, more intimate, recognizable, and enjoyable was one of Anthony Bourdain's traits. This was especially important for the American audience, which knows little about the world and cares even less to get to know it.
Bourdain has given many Americans the opportunity to live life through his series. The anonymous tweeter best summed up the transformative power the series had in America.
"Anthony Bourdain had one of the few shows on television that tried with all its might to teach Americans not to be afraid of other people."
Indeed, Anthony Bourdain opened the rest of the world to America. America is not just a state but a nation stretching from one ocean to another, with coasts to the north, east, south, and west, a state encompassing such a diverse area and made up of such a diverse population, which came from all parts of the world to become Americans. Precisely because of this abundance of domestic diversity, Americans tend to neglect the rest of the world and be preoccupied with themselves beyond measure.
Although rich, Americans do not travel, many do not even have a passport. Ignorance of the world is not in itself such a problem when things are going well. But when things go wrong, ignorance of the world is the easiest way to dehumanize the other.
Anthony Bourdain tried not to let that happen because he was trying to introduce Americans to the rest of the world and vice versa:
"If I'm advocating anything, then I'm advocating that you move. The further you can, the more you can. Across the ocean, or at least across the river. Put yourself in someone's shoes or try someone's food, it will definitely be good for everyone. Get off the couch, get moving! "
One Of The Loudest And Sharpest Critics Of Vladimir Putin
Bourdain not only introduced Americans to the world across the ocean but also forgotten parts of his own country. This was especially important after Donald Trump's victory when liberal voters from the East and West Coasts could not figure out what motivated Trump's voters from the interior.
"I've lived in New York, the center of the world, all my life, and it's easy to think it's America. That the things that are important to me are important to everyone. Every other place seemed unthinkable to me. Even inconceivable. But that's exactly why I had to go right there, to that inconceivable place. "
Anthony Bourdain did not shoot some of the best episodes of his series somewhere far away in Africa or on the exotic Pacific Islands, but there, a few kilometers away from his New York - in West Virginia or Pittsburgh. As his series was not really about food and cooking, but about everything else, the topics that divided America would come up very quickly.
Wherever he traveled, from Myanmar to Houston, Anthony Bourdain sought to make the "foreign" less foreign, from food to politics. He succeeded in at least one place - candles and flowers in front of the Les Halles restaurant in Downtown testify that New York mourns one of its most talented ambassadors.
Bourdain knew how to engage in what he believed in passionately - he was one of the loudest and sharpest critics of Vladimir Putin in America. In one of his episodes, he had lunch in Moscow with the then head of the opposition, former Deputy Prime Minister Boris Nemtsov.
He asked him if he feared for his life after Putin had numerous critics executed, including Alexander Litvinenko, who died poisoned with radioactive polonium in tea.
Nemtsov told him that he was not afraid and believed that Russia could do better than Putin. Nine months later, under the Kremlin walls, he was shot by a group of Putin's assassins. Anthony Bourdain did not miss the opportunity to talk about Nemtsov and Putin's authoritarian rule.
Obama Asked If He Could Eat With Him, Not The Other Way Around
Although he had strong convictions, Anthony Bourdain did not want to interfere in domestic politics. The legendary lunch he had at a diner in Hanoi with then-President Barack Obama showed how much he kept out of daily politics.
Bourdain's CNN colleague Jake Tapper says Obama's White House contacted him asking if Bourdain would like to film something with the president. Tapper said:
"I connected them to Tony then. It tells you a lot about who Tony Bourdain was. Obama asked if he could eat with him, not the other way around."
Bourdain insisted that the meal is not at some gala dinner at the White House, but something more human and in a less expected place. Not a lot of chefs got a chance to interview the President of America. Still, Anthony Bourdain did it at a cheap diner in Hanoi, where he and Obama ate from a plastic table and eventually toasted with a bottle of Vietnamese beer.
That's how Obama remembered Bourdain on the news of Anthony Bourdain's death. Low plastic chair, cheap but delicious noodles, cold Hanoi beer.
"That's how I'll remember Tony. He taught us about food - but more importantly, about the ability of food to connect us. To be a little less afraid of the unknown. We will miss him. "
A Man Who Has Seen The World And Experienced A Life That Most Of Us Never Will
One of the reasons Anthony Bourdain's death resonated so painfully in America was deadly summed up by W. Kamau Bell, a black activist who was a friend of Bourdain's. Bell claims that he stole Bourdain's model for his documentary series United Shades of America, only that he inserted slavery and racism into it - instead of food and cooking.
Bell summed up the painful weight of the loss as follows:
"Today we are led by a person who is not curious and who is anti-intellectual. That's why Tony Bourdain's departure is so painful because he embodied opposite values: he was curious and he was an intellectual. "
Anthony Bourdain was a contemporary adventurer in the best sense of the word, at a time when there were not many adventurers left in the world. A man who saw the world and experienced a life that most of us never will and left before he should have. There is no substitute for him, and that is why Anthony Bourdain's death is so painful.