When celebrities pass, it is often a hard reminder that our idols and heroes — the people we’ve built up and looked to are just people in the end. People with ordinary strife, with shortcomings and feelings of loneliness, self-criticism and longing, and the ever present curse of mortality.
I admit I’m typically skeptical of people who display overly emotional reactions to news of celebrity deaths. There seems to me an insincerity in mourning the loss of someone through the impersonal lens of a screen. Someone you didn’t actually know. Someone whose presence in the world is framed completely by your own subjectivity.
But now I find myself wondering — what else is there? How much can you really know someone other than what they’ve given to you? People with great bodies of work and legacies of expression may actually have revealed more of themselves in their openness than those we see almost daily, certainly more than I have to those I love. So it is with this outlook, I celebrate Anthony Bourdain — man we knew or thought we did, in honor of the tears shed for someone I’ve never met that managed to give so much.
From a glance, it could seem a selfish existence — traveling around the world, getting private dinners of exclusive meals served to you. But Anthony Bourdain did much more than eat fresh clams roasted over an open fire on the coast of Croatia. The reason so many loved him is because he inspired them. He inspired us to travel, and he brought a glimpse of culture into our homes when we couldn’t in our stead.
“Travel isn’t always pretty. It isn’t always comfortable. Sometimes it hurts, it even breaks your heart. But that’s okay. The journey changes you; it should change you. It leaves marks on your memory, on your consciousness, on your heart, and on your body. You take something with you. Hopefully, you leave something good behind.”
At a time when politics favor isolationism, when a score of blockbuster narratives and media outlets seemed to fall over themselves to discourage exploration with warnings and horror stories, especially toward women, Bourdain said go. And don’t just go to Paris. Go far past the Left Bank. Go to the desert of Oman and the dark alleys of Vietnam. Find the heart and grime of a place and eat the food.
“Travel isn’t always pretty. It isn’t always comfortable. Sometimes it hurts, it even breaks your heart. But that’s okay. The journey changes you; it should change you. It leaves marks on your memory, on your consciousness, on your heart, and on your body. You take something with you. Hopefully, you leave something good behind,” he said.
Bourdain shared casually his struggles with addiction without any usual proselytization of a fresh moral discovery. His road was a long and unfinished one, which made his successes all the more encouraging, more significant for those who have shared his burdens.
Most recently, when many of our favorite male celebrities have disappointed and betrayed the general public’s admiration with their conduct, Bourdain lent his influential voice to advance the Me Too movement. He was, by his own admission, inspired by his girlfriend, the actress Asia Argento, who has been vocal about the abuse inflicted on her by Harvey Weinstein. But his willingness to learn and listen extended beyond his personal connections and was demonstrated most acutely in his unwillingness to defend his fellow chef friends in their own accusations.
“Any admiration I have expressed in the past for Mario Batali and Ken Friedman, whatever I might feel about them, however much I admired and respected them, is, in light of these charges, irrelevant… In these current circumstances, one must pick a side. I stand unhesitatingly and unwaveringly with the women,” he wrote in the Medium article.
He expressed regret in the same piece over having “celebrated or prolonged” a culture in which these abuse have happened.
Bourdain spoke with candid awareness about the absurdity of his unlikely stardom. In a PBS Newshour interview, when asked how he made it to where he was, he answered shaking his head, “Fuck if I know!” He was forever humble. His death is a tragic reminder that no success, stardom, talent, or apparent dream job makes one invulnerable to the indiscriminate arm of depression.
In his memory, let us drink and eat with impunity, explore, remember to reach out to those around us, and please seek assistance when and if you may need it.
If you have feelings of depression or distress, please call the free and confidential support line-