Writer, chef, host, traveler: Anthony Bourdain, dead at 61

In a recent episode of his Peabody Award winning CNN show, Anthony Bourdain sits and has a beer with Mark Lanegan, singer of 90s band Screaming Trees and collaborator with Nirvana, Layne Staley and Mike McCready in Mad Season and Josh Homme’s Queens of the Stone Age.

They talked food and music, the way the world has changed in the past 20 years and Lanegan’s passions, shining a light on someone people might consider the leader of a one-hit-wonder band.

In another episode, slightly longer ago, Bourdain sat with Washington Post journalist Jason Rezaian and his wife, journalist Yeganeh Salehi, months before they were arrested at their home in Iran, chatting about their American home (neither were born in the States), what they missed and their optimism for the future.

Anthony Bourdain built a second, maybe a third, career out of talking with people about their lives and the world. With news of his death at the age of 61 on June 8, the world has become smaller, less colourful, sadder and less vibrant.

Bourdain famously fought a heroin addiction in the 1980s before his career as a chef took off, affording him opportunities to flex other creative muscles. The publication of an essay in 1999 launched his writing career, which later translated into several books before he landed shows on the Food Network, the Travel Network and finally CNN, where his “Parts Unknown” show won some 13 Emmys and other awards over the course of nine seasons.

What wasn’t to love about his life: He traveled, he ate well, he drank a lot, he was beloved, he was passionate, he had a spotlight.

Bourdain was an outspoken advocate for things that mattered to him: food, music and, in the past year or so, women speaking out against men who sexually assaulted and/or harassed them. His girlfriend at the time of his death, Asia Argento, is an outspoken accuser of Harvey Weinstein. Bourdain was a champion and a supporter of her decision to come forward and speak out as loudly as anyone, bullhorn at the ready, because it wasn’t right. She fired off at the movie industry; he had the bro culture of the restaurant industry in his sights and held his friends, associates and contemporaries accountable with vigor and a sense of righteous indignation.

For years – for most of the 21st Century, really – Bourdain brought the world into our homes, introducing us to cultures and foods and people and politics and the nooks and crannies of humanity we’d never seen or thought of before. He was the best tour guide we could hope for.

His shows were, again, filled with music – a longstanding friendship with musicians including Josh Homme and his blatant adoration of both the Ramones and the New York Dolls instilled a personality and grittiness that brought little tastes of his New York/New Jersey childhood and his passion for music to ears that might never have paid attention. He was a fan.

He loved confronting his comfort. In 2009, as part of a show on three Rust Belt cities in the U.S., Bourdain was clearly snarky at the start about visiting Buffalo, my once-and-current home. But after spending a short time here – Buffalo was, again, one-third of the hour-long episode – he sang the praises of this little lake town known for snow, Rick James, the Goo Goo Dolls and wings.

“It’s, actually, a weirdly wonderful place,” he said. “Even in winter. I think it took me traveling around the world to get to that point.”

He found the treasure wherever he went, insisting not on finding the fanciest places but the simple, the traditional, the family willing to cook their favourite foods for him and his crew, to allow TV cameras into their homes, to show the everyday from his extraordinary privilege.

And Bourdain did not shy away from conflict zones: watch his episodes on Beirut, Libya, Iran, Iraq, Saudi Arabia, Myanmar and Gaza and see that he didn’t want to be comfortable, he wanted to be real. He wanted the world to see what was out there, what real people looked like in places we considered bad and evil and enemies. His was a humanitarian mission in a pure sense.

He called travel “an endless learning curve, the joy of being wrong, of being confused.” Anthony Bourdain dove headfirst into that mix of learning, being wrong, being confused and accepting that it would always be that way, with the kind of fearless passion, curiosity and joy that most of us are too afraid or generally unable to see or realize or notice.

The world is a lesser place without this man because he was a wonderful, gentle, spirited but also somehow subtle tour guide.

Bourdain is survived by his girlfriend, Asia Argento, his daughter, Ariane, 11, with his second wife, Ottavia Busia, his mother, Gladys Bourdain, and brother Christopher Bourdain.

Crisis Services Canada is 1-833-456-4566 or by text at 45645. In the U.S., the national Suicide Prevention Lifeline is 1-800-273-8255.

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