What if Anthony Bourdain killed himself because he loved life too much?
Bourdain was a man who worked more than 200 days a year on the road. He visited the most incredible locations on the planet, dined in the most celebrated restaurants, drank the world’s most distinguished bourbons, caroused with celebrities and pushed the limits of adventure, ecstasy and craftsmanship beyond their breaking points.
He was a man who had not one but numerous peak experiences. Whether collecting edible fauna in Copenhagen for the restaurant Noma; ascending stupas in Bagan, Myanmar; sailing in Portugal; flying helicopters to the Amazonian heart of Colombia; sipping pina coladas in old San Juan; or a thousand other moments of unutterable bliss, he came to a point without a peak. At a book talk in Sydney, Bourdain remarked somewhat morosely, “I don’t get excited by truffles anymore.”
Perhaps Anthony Bourdain was so in love with his life that he became contented with the dampening veracity that there is no peak experience greater than the last. Bourdain was a lot of things, but clinically depressed was not one of them. He was human. He was harsh. He was offensive. He was arrogant. He was liberal. He was so damn smart. He was believable. He was trustworthy. He was sympathetic. He was an addict. He was redeemed. As someone who became famous at the age of 44, he was not afraid of failure. Above all else, he was an American original. Only America could have produced an Anthony Bourdain.
And like America, he was a bouquet of paradoxes — all of which made him wonderfully flawed and curiously relatable.
For one, he reported stories that almost no other mainstream news outlet wanted to cover, yet he ultimately went to work for CNN, the most mainstream news network in the world.
As a journalist and chef he was open to almost any cultural experience, but he rejected vegetarianism and veganism as first-world luxuries. He could be open-minded and passionately tolerant and also condescending and disparaging toward particular groups and individuals.
Bourdain was intoxicated by food, dance, history, family, language and the rituals of life. He was also morbid, cynical and sometimes misanthropic. Fascinated by war and social breakdown, he often gravitated in his voyages toward the lure of violence and death.
And lest we forget, he was a devoted father of an 11-year-old daughter and madly in love with his wife, Asia Argento. In the end, he seemed to be doomed more by the fragile forces of tenderness than the dark energies of anguish and cruelty.
As a realist, he was always grounded enough not to fly too high above the simple pleasures which make it all worthwhile — good food, good friends and good conversation. As only he could put it, “For a dinner date, I eat light all day to save room, then I go all in. I choose this meal and this order, and I choose you, the person across from me, to share it with. There’s a beautiful intimacy in a meal like that.”
George Cassidy Payne is an independent writer. He lives and works in Rochester.