Today Anthony Bourdain would have turned 63 years old. Weeks before his 62nd birthday, on June, 8, 2018, Bourdain took his own life in Kaysersberg, France. The public’s grieving has yet to settle.
Chefs Eric Ripert and José Andrés recently announced on social media that June 25 be known as Bourdain Day in celebration of their late friend. “Wherever U are & whoever UR with, join @chefjoseandres I & share your tributes & memories using #BourdainDay & wish Anthony Peace & Happy Birthday!”, tweeted an uplifting Ripert as he encouraged fans to celebrate Bourdain’s life rather than mourn his death.
In an era of very few celebrities to admire, Bourdain’s death felt heavier than previous public lamentation. We’ve been left with no authority to enlighten us on our own ignorance. Twelve months later, the heap of talking heads who appear on our screens does little to fill the vacancy of Bourdain’s presence. There’s an apparent hole of competence and curiosity needing to be plugged by someone who isn’t only chasing fame and endorsement deals.
For myself and many others around the country, Bourdain represented a refreshing change from the robotic, brand-driven, on-air personality void of any human characteristics and emotional depth. He rarely pushed products or overly-branded himself in order to acquire the widest possible viewership — a conditioning we’ve grown to accept over the past few decades.
Bourdain was different. He respected the process of storytelling within television’s framework and had confidence that his audience would pay attention. Was there entertainment value? Sure. But through his journeys, we also grew wiser of lands and cultures less known to most Americans.
In his four travel series: A Cook’s Tour, No Reservations, The Layover and Parts Unknown, he carried with him the same general intrigue, passion and obnoxious charm we had come to adore. A naturally curious disposition mixed with an attitudinal swagger, Bourdain felt as distinguished as an elder college professor without the superiority complex, sharing his worldly findings without a hierarchical pose. He wasn’t afraid to confront the truths of the human condition, providing an unprecedented platform for underrepresented and marginalized voices — never exploiting, only championing.
He wasn’t shy about sharing his honest opinion about a meal, a country, a culture, a celebrity or even his hangover. He spoke his mind, living without fear of consequence, and daring you to prove him wrong. Bourdain sought truth in the human condition, without pretentiousness or self-righteousness. He was perhaps the only modern day male who could lead with total humility.
Openly conceding to his own vices, including alcohol, cigarettes, drug addiction, workaholism and negative thinking, he didn’t worry about upholding a clean-cut, polished image. In fact, the scars and grit helped to shape his character. His writing was inspired by his own darkness.
When viewing the world through Bourdain’s eyes, you could say to yourself, “Yeah, the world sucks, but damn, there’s so much beauty out there, too.”
Like another tragic hero Ernest Hemingway, Bourdain chose a lifestyle of adventure, exploration, recklessness, turbulent romances, heavy drinking and art. And like Hemingway, Bourdain also took his own life at age 61.
How will history remember Anthony Bourdain? Hopefully, as an example of a flawed yet passionate individual, not only seeking wisdom but enthusiastically sharing it with others. A rebel in his own right. The 21st century’s answer to a counterculture icon. A decent man.
Raj Tawney is an essayist in New York with recent contributions to the Academy of Television Arts & Sciences, New York Daily News, The Independent, and Miami Herald.