Content Warning: suicide.
I was dicking around on my phone before showering last Friday when a news pop up alerted me to Anthony Bourdain’s passing. At that point I knew roughly two things about him: he was some kind of bad-boy chef on cooking/traveling reality shows, and he said the following about Henry Kissinger:
Once you’ve been to Cambodia, you’ll never stop wanting to beat Henry Kissinger to death with your bare hands. You will never again be able to open a newspaper and read about that treacherous, prevaricating, murderous scumbag sitting down for a nice chat with Charlie Rose or attending some black-tie affair for a new glossy magazine without choking. Witness what Henry did in Cambodia – the fruits of his genius for statesmanship – and you will never understand why he’s not sitting in the dock at The Hague next to Milošević.
This was in 2001. The quote was unearthed this year, went viral and, once it caught his attention, Bourdain refused to back off statements made so long ago:
Frequently, I’ve come to regret things I’ve said. This, from 2001, is not one of those times: pic.twitter.com/1NiHlupJkL
— Anthony Bourdain (@Bourdain) February 5, 2018
As someone who thinks things like this about any number of US war criminals, I thought this pretty awesome.
In regards to the second thing I knew about him – his “bad-boy image – it seems he had recently done a little introspection and critiqued the macho culture he participated in:
To the extent which my work in Kitchen Confidential celebrated or prolonged a culture that allowed the kind of grotesque behaviors we’re hearing about all too frequently is something I think about daily, with real remorse.
(I should note I have no idea how his specific behaviors manifested within our toxic patriarchy and how much he contributed to it)
Up until this weekend, I had no grasp of the extent of his popularity. Friends and acquaintances of mine, writers, bloggers, journalists, athletes, comedians, and people from all across the political spectrum expressed their sadness at his passing. Even America’s beloved president was shockingly able to muster a semblance of humanity by not saying terrible things about Bourdain, which is hilarious because he had “utter and complete contempt” for the dear leader, and joked about wanting to serve him hemlock.
Had he not died by suicide, I’m not sure this would’ve affected me as much as it has, and I wouldn’t have written anything about it. For as long as I can remember, I’ve had a morbid interest in suicide. That’s more or less because, at several points in my life but thankfully not in the recent past, I’ve wanted to die, or wanted to hurt myself. The former was a distinction I made between wanting to actually kill myself and merely not wanting to live or not caring if I died. This all feels really weird to actually write.
What had always kept me from walking further down that path was a combination of what I perceived as a lack of courage to go through with it and knowing what it would do to the people who loved and cared about me (apologies if anyone is offended by seeing suicide discussed in terms of courage – in my case it’s just a recounting of how I felt when I was younger). I don’t know if any of this necessarily counts as being suicidal, but it is suicide-adjacent.
For me, underlying everything it all was (and sometimes still is) a lack of self-esteem and outright self-hatred. This has been more difficult to banish. That sentiment is liable, at any time, to bubble to the surface and spew its noxious fumes all over my psyche. Even now, there’s a small voice in my head saying “why the fuck would anyone want to read anything you have to say?” (this is far from the first time; the answer is usually “I don’t know, fuck off.”)
It’s incredibly irresponsible for me to sit here and speculate about the specifics of why someone I’ve never met chose to end their life. But with the amount of Bourdain-related media I’ve recently consumed, I can’t help but highlight part of an episode of Parts Unknown from 2016. In it, he went to a psychotherapist, because he “need[ed] somebody to talk to”:
Bourdain admitted to his therapist that he felt like “a freak,” further explaining that he felt isolated. “I communicate for a living, but I’m terrible with communicating with people I care about,” he said. “I’m good with my daughter. An eight-year-old is about my level of communication skills, so that works out. But beyond, that I’m really terrible.”
Bourdain also revealed to his Argentinian therapist that he believed the likelihood of him having Narcissistic Personality Disorder was high. “I tell stories for a living. I write books. I make television,” he said. “A reasonable person does not believe that you are so interesting that people will watch you on television.
This past rainy weekend, my wife and I watched a lot of Parts Unknown. Normally I have a reflexive antipathy to all reality shows, but I found it pretty enjoyable. Though, in light of the circumstances of that led to us having an interest in watching, it was hard not to watch without a sense of melancholy.
His desire to show Western audiences places that they’ve never thought about, and in many cases couldn’t place on a map, was extremely admirable and, I would argue, important. He displayed a preternatural ability to both empathize with and humanize people featured on the show. It’s not surprising that so many with roots in the places he visited were affected by the news of his passing:
He was a master baby whisperer, and a master storyteller, having rocked my 7 month old to sleep in the middle of shooting our episode of @PartsUnknownCNN in #Gaza. RIP @Bourdain pic.twitter.com/APDUA84bc5
— Laila El-Haddad (@gazamom) June 8, 2018
Keep thinking about Anthony Bourdain in Senegal, in Ghana, in South Africa, in Nigeria. He made me see my own continent in a different way than others shows did. He had respect for the people he encountered and was such a beautiful soul. When I miss Rome, I watch #PartsUnknown.
— Tariro Mzezewa (@tariro) June 8, 2018
Whenever someone seems intrigued by Iran or is interested in learning more about the country beyond what's in the news, I send them this clip of Anthony Bourdain in Iran. He stripped away the politics and showed the humanity of this beautiful country. https://t.co/yks5cZ8B36
— Arash Markazi (@ArashMarkazi) June 8, 2018
In our hyper-connected, late capitalist hellscape where so many have neither the desire nor the disposition to regard the Other as worthy of any modicum of compassion, the loss of a person who had ample amounts of it and went to the trouble of sharing it on such a massive scale is pretty fucking sad.
Not sure how else to end this except to say that The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline is available 24 hours/day at 1-800-273-8255.