Losing Anthony Bourdain

I think it’s humbling to realize that we never really know what is going on inside another human being. On the face of it, Anthony Bourdain would seem to have had everything: good looks, enormous creative talent, wealth, an entire world to explore for his popular CNN travel show Parts Unknown. The final episodes of that program will begin airing on Sunday evening, with Kamau Bell as guest host. Bourdain was in the process of filming the season when he took his life.

I don’t know a lot about suicide. I suspect that suicide in the young often may be a matter of despair that peaks but can subside again, and that when the young person can be dissuaded, further attempts might be forestalled. I think suicide, assisted dying,  in the terminally ill is perfectly logical. I suspect that suicide in a person of Bourdain’s age is the culmination of a lot, and that following through on the impulse to end one’s life is considered and intentional and hard to reverse. There’s such a thing as suicidal attempts masked as a cry for help — the person tries, but in a way that he or she is likely to be discovered. I sense that Bourdain’s death wasn’t that. He wanted to die. He was surrounded by people in whom he might have confided his dark thoughts and who might have helped him hold off. That didn’t happen. He died.

I liked Bourdain’s show, his easy manner with a variety of people and the number of places he was willing to go and the sometimes bizarre culinary things he eagerly tried. He seemed like a person with a zest for life, and more chances to add richness to his days than many of us. He looked like he was having a wonderful time.

I’m probably not the only viewer who had fallen into the trap of thinking we knew him. I suspect that even with foreknowledge of his death, I’m going to watch right up until the last episode and see him as a man living at the peak of his game.

2 thoughts on “Losing Anthony Bourdain

  1. Anthony Bourdain was one of the few TV shows I recorded and consistently watched. To me, it wasn’t about the food, it was about the culture and food was just part of culture. I, too, was shocked to hear of his suicide. I work for the VA or suicide is subject to lots of research focused on identifying and preventing suicide. Research shows that feelings of suicide are usually fleeting so with the person can get through that dark. They can survive. It’s so tragic that despite being surrounded by people who seem to care about him that he took his own life. The Patton project made short films produced, directed, and starring Veterans who had contemplated suicide. They are worthy of Oscars. My favorite is “don’t kill yourself“. There’s lots of lessons learned for everyone.

  2. for Katie: I agree that Anthony Bourdain’s program wasn’t just about food — it was so much more. I admired the way he could engage with people from very different places and social classes from his own, with a genuine curiosity and appreciation for their customs and culture. His death is a terrible loss. I don’t think I’ve ever known anyone directly who committed suicide, but I imagine, as you say, it’s a huge area for research for the VA. I wish Bourdain could have been moved to confide in someone around him, who might have said, “Don’t kill yourself.”

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