At 7:17 AM Friday morning, I woke up to find a heartbreaking text waiting for me.
I later told my friend that the news wasn’t surprising given his former heroin addiction and open dialogue about his struggle with depression and suicide. I’d witnessed him speak on this over the years in episodes of No Reservations and Parts Unknown. But this automatic retort was a lie. Despite his history, the news still shook me.
For one, you spend your entire life working for the things Anthony Bourdain has: an extremely successful career that allows you to travel across the world, wealth, fame, love—all on your own terms—and it still doesn’t fix the underlying problems that accompany depression and other mental health issues many of us struggle with.
Whatever he was going through, he deserves recognition for his accomplishments and his game-changing impact on the culinary arts and reality television.
If you watch some of his older shows, you might laugh because the foods he was trying and the places he visited, that seem so normal now, were still taboo for many Americans at the time.
I don’t care much for cooking shows, but I loved everything about Bourdain from the moment I saw an episode of No Reservations in college. He was, as the show’s title implies, an absolutely fearless, punk-rock, barebones traveling chef who went where high-brow chefs refused to and who could care less about these same opinions on food or his approach to food.
And yet, he spent so much time advocating. For people of color. For women. For rape survivors. For addicts. He was outspoken about all of these things. Much of the show (both NR and Parts Unknown) is dedicated to watching other people cook as well as learning and highlighting their techniques.
He never intruded in these spaces while he was there, rather he carved out a voice and a space for these individuals. That was the heart of his shows.
It’s incredibly hard to picture someone as fierce, loved, and wildly successful as Bourdain ending his own life. Although he always spoke of depression and addiction as though he’d overcome them, there is no denying that this came up often enough in his shows to send up red flags. But there were also incredible moments of joy and laughter in the exchange of food and culture throughout every episode.
I’ve since talked to several friends about Anthony Bourdain, and he meant something different to all of us. A talented writer. An advocate. A bold voice that went against mainstream food critics. A cool guy. A tour guide in the bowls of unknown spaces. There’s no denying the fact that he touched people’s lives in a positive way…and under all that was still a man battling for his life.
I don’t pretend to know what drove him to this, but I think it was always this brokenness just under the surface in him that always resonated with me. Maybe it was what allowed him to be so different, relatable, and fearless. There is nothing glorious about suicide, which Bourdain himself admitted is a selfish, stupid act in past interviews. I don’t think anyone is in a place to judge why another does something this extreme. However, I think that Anthony Bourdain still deserves to be remembered for all he has done and for what he meant to others. I know I won’t be the only one who misses him.