Why Anthony Bourdain deserves our grief

By Frederick Kuo

June 16th, 2018

Through his imperfections and humanism, Bourdain displayed both the darkness and the best of the human existence

Screenshot of Bourdain’s No Reservations Cuba Edition

On the morning of June 8th, the world, as well as myself, logged on to the web to find out that famed chef, traveler and host, Anthony Bourdain had committed suicide. Unlike many other celebrity deaths, after the initial shock wore off, a genuine and deep sadness set in. I would never again be able to vicariously travel the world accompanied by Bourdain’s wit, unique insight and effusive warmth. He had lived a life that I considered perfect, to travel the world, eat good food, meet interesting people and be paid handsomely for all of it. However, his suicide was a terse reminder that although the lives of strangers may seem to be perfect on the outside, we often cannot see the subtle signs of torment that may haunt their souls behind closed doors.

As I witness the seemingly endless tributes for Anthony and the outpouring of grief following his loss, it is clear that the qualities that made Anthony stand out, had also led him to a dark and quiet struggle against his own demons. Bourdain was not like many other TV hosts. Along with his biting wit, or perhaps the source of it, was a melodramatic and cynical undertone that hinted of a mix of nostalgia and depression, and a deep familiarity with the dark side of the human condition. He was notoriously honest about his own shortcomings, his past struggles with substance abuse as well as the dark underbelly of the industry he had labored in for decades. It was this brutal honesty and assessment of himself, his lack of pretension and moral superiority, that made him so relatable to others.

What made Anthony Bourdain so loved however was his humanism, evident in the constant humility and warmth that characterized his interactions with others. He incessantly traveled throughout the world and at any moment seemed to be in a different country, yet he always appeared to be at home and treated his local hosts and the many individuals he came across, with genuine affection and respect, regardless of their status in life. What separated his show from the myriad of others that showcased travel and food, was a deep insight into both the beautiful and the gritty of the societies and countries he experienced. This rare authenticity stemmed from an almost insatiable reservoir of intellectual curiosity and a remarkable ability to critically think and process his experiences.

Anthony Bourdain deserves our grief. His existence and the fact that he was given a platform, made the world a better place. His death is a loss for the world. However, the most productive way that fans of his work can process his grief is to take valuable lessons from his life. The first lesson is to understand the type of desperation that had seized him in his final days and recognize the truly damaging impact of depression on the human psyche. If we can recognize the signs of this in those in our lives who may be quietly struggling, it will allow us to take proactive measures to prevent the tragedy that had befallen Anthony. The other lesson we can hope to derive from this is to follow the many positive personal examples he had set which made him such a valuable contribution to the world. His intelligence, curiosity, lack of pretension, humility and a deep and genuine love for other human beings that knew no political or cultural boundaries. His spirit of generosity and empathy will undoubtedly be deeply missed by the millions he had touched with his life’s work.

May you find the peace you were desperately searching for Anthony, you were one of the good ones.