The archetype of fortitude, Anthony Bourdain presented an image to the world of a worldly traveler and culinary expert who could quite literally do and see it all. Characterized by impishly curly hair, fading arm tattoos, and an unapologetically urbane style, Bourdain looked like the type of man who experienced the reality of the world in every ounce of his being. And to an extent, Bourdain must have. His life was distinguished by a series of unorthodox ventures, having been a fate-rider who moved with eyes constantly set to the future.
Bourdain's path to stardom began in the late nineties with him establishing himself as a fixture of the the greater New York City culinary circle. Bourdain eventually found himself as the executive chef at Brasserie Les Halles, which launched his career into the high-profile culinary world. Naturally, features in the news, cookbooks, books, and culinary-themed television shows ensued. Despite his robust culinary background, Bourdain shifted his focus to culture and travel with his most recent project, his CNN show, Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown. Given the success Bourdain amassed as he climbed the industry ladder, in conjunction with his tough yet refined image, Bourdain seemed to possess predestined success.
However, the story of Anthony Bourdain and the success he amassed is incomplete without discussing the dark undercurrent that flowed within him throughout his life. Bourdain was remarkably open about his mental health struggles — he discussed them with what seemed to be a natural and accepting openness. In a November 2016 episode of Parts Unknown, Bourdain is quoted saying, “I’d like to be happy. I should be happy. I have incredible luck. I’d like to be able to look out the window and say, ‘Yay, life is good.’” The decisive briefness of his musings show how aware, how certain, Bourdain was of how mental health issues that punctuated his life. Bourdain has discussed in interviews the ability of mundane stimuli to trigger a consuming spiral of depression that would last days, often involving purposelessness and existential angst.
To perhaps best sum up his inner emotional and mental climate, Bourdain noted in a interview that he “[feels] kind of like a freak and [feels] kind of isolated.” Given Bourdain’s history with mental health issues, this feeling is anything but unexpected. The world conditions us to feel that we are the deviants from the norm when we have issues. Normal is unproblematic, it is easy, it is predictable. Anthony Bourdain’s sudden suicide shows that even those who appear to be most cultivated and strong can struggle within themselves. Internal struggle is something to which no person is immune. Brushing aside the ways the world perceives individuals allows us to understand that at our core we are all human, no matter how many restaurants we have headed, books we have written, docu-series we have, or continents we visited. Rest in peace, Anthony Bourdain. You are fortitudinous, but you are also human.