Unless you’ve lived under a rock for the past few days, you probably know that Anthony Bourdain was found dead in a hotel room in France on Friday morning. He’d killed himself at 61.
I have been bummed about a lot of celebrity deaths.
But Bourdain’s death by suicide is different, and I find it as haunting as I did Robin Williams’s death in 2014. It probably doesn’t help that Bourdain, like Williams, was one of my favorite people that I never met. Carrie Fisher is another one. But Fisher didn’t actively kill herself, and that makes her death devastating, but different.
As with Williams’s death almost four years ago now, I never met the guy, but I feel like I lost a friend. My world is a little less complete, beating back the darkness is a little harder.
I also don’t have anything I can add to the discussion about suicide, the same way I didn’t have anything to add four years ago. I don’t have any ideas on ways to better the care for people with mental health struggles, and can offer no insightful point of view about the pain people with that level of depression are going through.
I listened to two of Bourdain’s books last year. I liked them both. I’ve been watching ‘Parts Unknown’ and his other shows on and off for years. Bourdain was an incredible storyteller. He went places with an open-mindedness that I envy, and wish I could summon (I can’t make myself want to go to China, for example). He made me want to go places (not China, obviously, but elsewhere, like South America). He was authentic and genuine, and he was smug about a lot of things, but never about the people he met or the cultures he was getting to know.
He showed me the world and its cultures through food and drink, and he was smart and funny and brave as he did it. He was self-aware, and self-deprecating, and ran circles around the establishment he exposed in terms of making the public want to experience new adventures, culinary and otherwise. He was empathetic and honest, and the most ironic thing about his death is that this was a guy who was showing us how to live. Be curious, seek travel and movement and other ways besides your own, and don’t be afraid of things that are different from what you know.
The most astonishing part about his death, to me, was how other people loved him as much as I did. Maybe it’s because when he was making headlines it was for the outrageous things he said and then everyone was condemning him instead of talking about how great he was, but I also think people embraced him more as time went on. I have seen certain commentaries from people that they have never seen people of color so affected by the death of a white man, and that is another testament to his storytelling: he didn’t just tell. He listened. It was as if the people in each story were the most important people in the world and he shared those stories with understanding and respect, without acting as if he was uncovering something. He was simply sharing it, not discovering it.
As I said, I have nothing real to add on the discussion of suicide and mental health, and I’m not someone who feels the need to add to the white noise by contributing nonsense. I don’t know what Bourdain was thinking, or how he was feeling, or what inside him was so dark that it could convince him to leave his daughter, who he seemed to love more than anyone (not surprising or unusual).
All I can say is this: Anthony Bourdain was colorful, and bright, and we need more people like him. He left an incredible legacy of learning about cultures and meeting people through travel and food and storytelling. I will miss him.
Finally, if you are thinking of taking your own life, or suspect someone you know is considering it, please call the national suicide prevention hotline at 1-800-273-8255. They can help.