On Friday morning, I awoke to the news of Anthony Bourdain’s suicide. Like many people around the world, I was gutted. This wasn’t just because this was a famous person who passed away. Bourdain was a kind, loving, and generous person who represented the very best in humanity. His honest and curious approach to life was endearing and inspired me to find and focus on the elements that connect all human beings together. He exemplified a humanist belief that despite our cultural and social differences, people are driven and connected by similar needs and desires that are blind to our prejudices and societal norms.
Bourdain worked in restaurant and hotel kitchens until his 40s. He published Kitchen Confidential, a behind-the-scenes memoir of the culinary industry, and became a successful author. By the next year, he was making a television show and published A Cook’s Tour, a memoir of him searching for the perfect meal and the template that would define the rest of his career.
There was a lot to admire about Bourdain. Most people, and this includes me, were envious of his life style. Watching episodes of his programs No Reservations and Part Unknown, it was easy to be caught up in the excitement of traveling around the world in order to meet exciting people, see interesting places, eat amazing food, and drink remarkable spirits. Who wouldn’t want a career like that? It looked like one of those jobs where the work didn’t seem like work. Of course, television has the power to filter out the mundane and only show us the glamour. However, I didn’t care. Based on what I was seeing on television, Bourdain was living the life.
I envied Bourdain’s life. I was vocal about this on social media numerous times. IT was easy to be enamored by that because, by comparison, my life isn’t as exciting. I have good and exciting things in my life, but the absolute freedom I projected onto Bourdain’s life was alluring and I would think about how wonderful it would be to step into his shoes.
Bourdain’s suicide was a shock to the system in a few ways. We lost a truly remarkable media personality. However, it reinforced a few life lessons I would conveniently forget when I watched his shows. Two days before his death, I tweeted “.@Bourdain is living my ideal life.” I know that tweet was superficial and only spoke to my own personal desire to not work and travel the world. When I heard about Bourdain’s suicide, I had to think about what that comment really signified.
I thought about that comment and similar ones I had made before. With that kind of statement of desire, I realized that it was based on an assumption. I assume that I could be happy with travelling the world and eating amazing foods, so Bourdain should have been happy travelling the world and eating amazing foods. That lifestyle, for me, signified that Bourdain was a happy and completely free spirit. When you make an assumption like that, you tend to forget about he invisible scars people have.
Bourdain has experienced substance abuse issues throughout his life. Before he became a media personality, he habitually abused hard drugs and alcohol as a result of his depression. Bourdain was always open and honest about his struggle with addiction and his pursuit to filling a hole he felt compelled to fill with heroin and booze. Even in his books and on his television programs, he would open up and address these things when temptation hit him during a particularly difficult scene. That struggle was always there. Whether it was front and center or hidden in the background, that fight never goes away. And Bourdain addressed it in a way that was honest, bold, and could help people struggling with the same issues.
Bourdain was not only known for his love food, but he was a huge music enthusiast. Musicians would appear on his show to eat some tasty food and philosophize on life. There’s an episode of Part Unknown where Bourdain is dining with Iggy Pop. Bourdain jokes about them eating a healthy meal when they both have reputations of hard drugs and hard living when they were younger. Bourdain asks Iggy about is important to him after all he’s been through and Iggy replies that he enjoys the love he gets and wants to spend more time with the people who give it.
Bourdain dined with many musicians he admired. There are episodes of Parts Unknown and No Reservations where Bourdain is joined by his musical heroes such as Alice Cooper, Serj Tankian, and Questlove. However, no musical encounter on any of his shows were as intimate or heartfelt as the episode with Josh Homme.
Homme appeared on a 2011 episode of No Reservations where Bourdain visited Homme’s Rancho De La Luna. Together, Homme and Bourdain travel around the California desert. They visit a strange swap meet, drive around in old cars, and even record a song together at a studio in Joshua Tree called “Lonely T-Bird.” This was an inside look into their intimate friendship and really illustrated the love Bourdain had for good food and good people.
Homme was gutted when he heard about Bourdain’s suicide. His band, Queens of the Stone Age, had a performance scheduled at Denmark’s NorthSide Festival. During the set, Homme dedicated a performance of “Long Slow Goodbye,” the closing track of their 2005 studio album Lullabies to Paralyze, to Bourdain (At 46:00 here).
My life is good and I have plenty to be thankful for. It can be easy to become distracted and focus on how green you think someone else’s grass is. However, there are things you and your assumptions cannot see. Someone who may seem content and living their best life could be fighting internal demons that you may or may not be strong enough to deal with, but they feel compelled to project a sense of normalcy they can appear to fit in. That’s the danger of making assumptions about people.
If you or anyone you know is suffering and thinking about suicide, please talk to someone. It only takes five minutes of talking to a friend, a loved one, or a counselor for those thoughts to start to recede. For many, suicide is a spontaneous and permanent reaction to a temporary solution.