For those of you living under a rock, Anthony Bourdain, famous chef, author and TV personality, was found dead on Friday, June 8 in his hotel room in France. He was in the middle of shooting an episode of his popular CNN television show “Parts Unknown” with his best friend and fellow chef, Eric Ripert. Instead of meeting Eric and the crew for their normal group breakfast at the hotel, he hanged himself. Eric found him after he had already passed.
Tony was, by all accounts, a very interesting character.
He was an addict. He beat a horrible heroin and crack addiction. He was never truly “sober”. Anyone who watched his shows can tell you that he never met a bottle he didn’t like. Fellow addicts were surprised at his openness with drinking. Typically, addicts know that they have to set limits to their behavior or else they will go down that dark path again. Tony seemed to laugh at that notion. Hey, he kicked heroin and crack. What more do you want from the guy? Try traveling all over the world and not drinking. Good luck with that.
He was passionate. He loved what he did. He worked extremely hard on both his television show and his writing. He was gifted at both. He loved the food. He loved the people. He loved the travel. He was not always the most outgoing and extroverted man in the room, but you could tell that he greatly enjoyed the time he spent with the groups of people that he called friends all over the world. He loved to learn and he loved sharing it with his viewers and readers.
He was a sensitive guy. Beneath the “punk rock” persona he seemed so keen on cultivating and maintaining, there was a very sensitive and sweet guy. I’m reminded of the episode of No Reservations where he visited Spain. Throughout the show, he spoke in glowing terms about the quality of the food he was eating on a daily basis. He said chefs all over the world would “shit the bed” when they saw how lucky he was to eat all these magnificent dishes. At the end of the episode, he is having dinner and wine with his fellow chefs and proclaims it as being one of the happiest times of his life. His friend gives him a loving kiss and at that moment you see the real Tony. He felt true love in his heart for these people.
He fell DEEPLY in love with women. Tony wanted it all. He wanted to spend an inordinate amount of time on his passion and craft, and to also have the love and adoration of a woman. He wanted to be a husband. He tried marriage. Twice. After his first marriage ended, he publicly admitted in interviews that he experienced a deep depression that made him suicidal. He medicated himself with drunken benders and trips to French brothels to ease the pain.
Soon after, he found his second wife, a spunky Sardinian woman named Ottavia. By her own admission, she first came to the U.S. chasing a “bad boy” rocker type. She had no money and could barely speak the language. No relationship blossomed from her adventures with the wannabe Irish rocker, so she ended up working jobs in various restaurants to make ends meet. That is where she met Tony. They both shared interests (booze, smoking, and partying) and quickly fell in love. Several days after meeting, they got matching tattoos. After a few more dates, they got married.
It was during this marriage that Tony went from simply famous to “household name” level of fame. Ottavia was happily along for the ride. She would give birth to his first and only child.
Cooking shows were big on TV. You couldn’t turn on cable TV without seeing two chefs going at it in a contest to make the best risotto. It seemed that Tony was on every other show as a guest judge. He had his own show on the Travel Channel. The show won an Emmy. Then he later moved over to CNN for a giant pile of money. His travel schedule became even more hectic. He also continued with his writing, publishing several works of fiction and non-fiction.
During this time, he and the wife grew distant. She needed an outlet for her “aggression” (her words) and decided to take up Jiu Jitsu and later MMA fighting. While Tony was off eating strange foods and tipping back drinks all over the world (and earning a hefty payday), his wife was rolling around with younger men and documenting it for the world to see. Arguably not the best behavior from a wife, but the social media world took notice and she became the “you go girl!” poster child for bored moms everywhere. Even publications like the NY Times featured her in articles.
Tony also took notice and decided it was best to join her on the mat instead of just following her on Instagram. He applied his focus and hard-working mindset to Jiu Jitsu and ended up doing very well, impressing everyone by eventually earning his blue belt and winning tournaments… a monumental feat for someone in their late 50’s, let alone somebody with such a prolific work schedule.
He got into amazing shape, lost 35 lbs, and cut down considerably on his drinking. He looked like a new person.
All of his changes were not enough. At the age of 60, Tony separated from Ottavia. He contends it was mutual. They had simply spent too much time apart (also the reason for his failed first marriage). She had her life and he had his. Somehow they made it work long enough to raise a child together, but they weren’t being truthful if they said they were a married couple.
In true Tony fashion, he quickly latched on to a replacement girlfriend. In Asia Argento (a member of the crew for his Rome episode of “Parts Unknown” and self-proclaimed “witch”), Tony found a kindred spirit. In no time at all, he had stumbled upon another Italian beauty 20 years his junior who shared his passion for travel and all things “punk”. They were both “circus freaks”, in Tony’s words. Misfits. Misunderstood people who came from privileged backgrounds (Asia’s father was a famous filmmaker) but tried their damndest to prove themselves to the world through their work.
Tony had found his soul mate.
Asia came with baggage. Lots of baggage. Picture the luggage-sorting facility at JFK airport. Now triple that. That was Asia.
Tony became her biggest champion during her very public #METOO campaign against slimeball Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein. Tony used his gift of writing to take to social media and penned articles in support of Asia and her cause. He wouldn’t hesitate to gloat about her accomplishments and how proud he was of her for being so brave and outspoken against Weinstein during the horrible rape allegations.
Around this time, Tony’s public persona became much more political and much more outspoken about social justice causes. At the ripe age of 61, his rebellious punk persona was in full swing.
With Asia, he found a new sense of youth he lost years ago.
It was at this time that friends would later admit they were concerned about Tony’s obsessive love for Asia.
Tony wouldn’t be the first boyfriend of Asia’s to speak out against Weinstein. Years ago, Asia confided in her boyfriend Vincent Gallo (another misfit Hollywood filmmaker) about the awful things that Weinstein did to her and other women in the industry. Vincent then went public with his disgust and outed Weinstein. His prize was an angry Asia who denounced Vincent, denied the claims of abuse, and then went back into the arms of Harvey. This is all well before the famous #METOO movement.
Yep. Baggage. Lots of it.
To a man with a strong head on his shoulders and a healthy sense of self-respect, a gal like Asia is what we call “bad news” or “has more flags than a communist parade”. To a guy like Tony, she was heroin. She was a pretty, young, dangerous, confident, strange and outspoken woman who just loved Tony for all his quirks. Here was this girl who shared his love and passion for the very thing that supposedly ended his first two marriages: his work. FINALLY a woman who not only checks all the boxes, but one who won’t later resent him for doing what he does best.
Dammit, it took him 60 years, but he finally found the right gal to make his dreams come true.
She made him feel alive, and he would go to the ends of the Earth to protect her.
On May 26, 2018, Anthony and Asia wrapped up work on an episode of “Parts Unknown” in Italy. Afterward, he headed off to France to start work on the next episode. Asia headed off to her home in Rome. Social media posts show they are still very much a couple.
On June 2, Asia is spotted and photographed in Rome in the arms of Hugo Clement, a young French journalist. She askes the paparazzo to delete the photos that were taken. He refuses. She is photographed over the next three days coming in and out of a hotel with Hugo. The same hotel she had frequented with Tony over the past year.
On June 5, the photos hit the internet for the world to see. Tony stops posting on social media and unfollows Asia. His friends say he is in a “dark mood”.
On June 7, he misses a dinner with the crew and his best friend Eric.
On June 8, he fails to make breakfast. Eric finds him hanging in his hotel room.
Do I blame Asia? No. She was just doing what crazy people do. They spot good-hearted, easy to manipulate people… chew them up and spit them out. Then they find their next victim. That’s just their nature.
Tony was broken. Tony was smart. Tony was gifted. Tony was a hard worker that provided for his loved ones. Tony was passionate.
All of this was brought down by one thing: He hung all of his sanity on the shoulders of his “soul mate”. When that inevitably collapsed, he had nowhere else to go. He had nothing to hope for. Love was gone. Joy was gone. He had his work, but that paled in comparison to the high of being in a loving relationship with a woman who truly understood him.
When Asia snuck away with another man, that was, in Tony’s mind, the universe’s way of pointing and laughing at his good fortune. It was all just a big practical joke.
In his mind, he did everything by the book. He followed his passion. When that didn’t work, he was lucky enough to find the perfect life partner. He jumped on the rare opportunity to start over and gladly molded himself to become a “better man” for her.
She laughed and spit in his face.
He reached the pinnacle of professional success, but the lifelong goal of true romance eluded him.
For all this positive traits, for all he accomplished in life… Tony still needed the love of a woman to complete him.
That’s what killed him.
He may have kicked heroin, but he never truly got clean.