Anthony Bourdain is gone. I can’t believe I’m writing that sentence. Television personalities rarely resonate with me, but for reasons as voluminous as a Pynchon novel, Bourdain was my kinda guy. As a chef, he’d had a checkered past, wasn’t entirely employable in the most mainstream of kitchens and yet he knew food in a way that many alleged chefs do not. As a writer, he cared not one whit for journalism, instead preferring to get at truths less objective and yet more vibrant.

For reasons I can’t comprehend, Bourdain’s work was classified as reality TV, and in the strictest sense, that was true; he presented reality. But without descending into cynicism, it’s fair to observe that only in America can we pervert a concept so simple as what constitutes the world around us. The fact that CNN produced Bourdain’s series Parts Unknown is a testament to how accurate a portrait of the world around him he portrayed; he presented a world not easily accessed by outsiders, using food as a catalyst for exploration.

The way he used local dishes as a medium for discovery affirmed for me the way I’ve used the bicycle as a way to apprehend the world around me. When I came to cycling, the bike was an end in itself. Increasingly, it is a means to an end, and that evolution was confirmed for me by Bourdain’s increasingly unscripted exploits in far flung places.

What Bourdain practiced has come to be known as immersion journalism, the 21st century’s response to the new journalism of the 1960s and ’70s. In it the boundary between the reporter (if we are to use that term) and the subject blurs, sometimes disappearing altogether. It is a necessarily introspective exploit and makes no claim to be the final word on its subject. This matters to me because when I write about the world around me, I’m writing about what I find interesting. Who I am inevitably shades my work and it was encouraging to me to see a guy as feisty as Bourdain engage his endeavor with strong opinions and yet great empathy, with vast knowledge and yet a flawed past. We shared a taste for altered states of consciousness. If there is room for Bourdain, I calculated, there’s probably room for me.

But suicide. This guts me like a field-dressed deer. A man like Bourdain has resources—almost certainly a killer health plan that doesn’t leave out dental, or psych. The pain of an injured soul cohabitates with isolation; there’s no separating chicken from egg in this because those of us who have traveled that road rarely have the faculties necessary to function as our own service writer, at least, not while walking the darkness.

I’ve spent more time confused and isolated than I care to admit and I’ve been lost enough to have thoughts no one should think. Loneliness will kill if left unchecked. What tears at me is the aftermath of his absence. The blast radius of a suicide can vaporize bedrock miles away. We know that suicides go up in the months that follow and those closest to him see the likelihood of their mortality rise like mercury in sunlight.

A friend said to me today that what hurt in Bourdain’s death was how his death flies in the face of what we liked about him. He was, in her words, the coolest guy around, a man everyone wanted to hang out with. One of my favorite compliments of him and his work came when he won a Peabody Award in 2013; the judges praised his show Parts Unknown for “expanding our palates and horizons in equal measure.”

We’ve lost a real man, someone who squared his shoulders to all he couldn’t accept and yet carried compassion without seeming soft. His was a spine that was no stiffer than necessary, his sense of the world no more complicated than enjoying a meal with people you care about.


Images courtesy CNN

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    1. JdRafferty

      Smartest move AB never made: Signing/finalizing divorce (no $$$ for gold-diggers) LMAO…

  1. Tominalbany

    I’ve never seen an episode. I’ve pretty much abandoned TV as a medium because I found it keeping me away from the printed word. Maybe the pendulum’s swung too far?
    (Baby you can drive my car…)

    In the limited free time I have, I try to read, get shit done, and enjoy a little time hanging out with my wife after my kids go to bed.
    I’ve got such a backlog…

    1. Author

      My personal opinion is that somewhere near 70 percent of TV is totally worthless crap that appeals to really base urges in people. The next 20 percent is sports, which may or may not appeal to you. After that there’s another nine percent that is mildly entertaining—most sitcoms actually have clever writers and the lines are definitely good for a laugh, but they are as disposable as Kleenex. There’s a final percent that makes the medium worthwhile. Bourdain was definitely part of that final percent.

  2. III

    While hiding and performing through my daily journey of trying to hang on to the next, I am often alone and isolated by my own design. But reading your sentence, ” Loneliness will kill if left unchecked”, left me pondering not the end truth of the statement, but whether loneliness is apart of my days. It is not a feeling I notice, the silence that depression builds around me muddles those connections to a point where I wonder if a genuine feeling of loneliness could be had. Though, it is the thought of those connections that make the struggle to make it to tomorrow possible. Padraig, I appreciate your openness and ability to write about your journey through the tunnel. Godspeed.

  3. scott g.

    News from Heaven, Julia Child and Justin Wilson gave Bourdain
    a big welcome home feast, music was provided by Robert Johnson.

  4. DRB

    You have the rare ability to write beautifully with personal transparency, and that resulted in this moving, but truly sad piece. May he rest in peace.

  5. Chris

    1) I think Bourdain did more to combat xenophobia among Americans than most statesmen.
    2) It’s wrong to assume loneliness is a cause of depression or that not being lonely makes it better. Bourdain most certainly knew people loved him dearly as did Kate Spade or Robin Williams or Dave Mirra or any number of other people famous or not who have killed themselves due to depression. Having close friends and family no more protects you from depression than regular exercise keeps you from getting cancer. Fignon and Armstrong were world class athletes but that didn’t prevent them from becoming cancer patients.

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