“…I’m not going anywhere. I hope. It’s been an adventure. We took some casualties over the years. Things got broken. Things got lost. But I wouldn’t have missed it for the world.”
― Anthony Bourdain.
But he did go somewhere. A few days ago, the 61-year old TV host and celebrity chef hung himself in a hotel room in France. There are no reports of him leaving a suicide note. His alleged girlfriend, Asia Argento, made a crocodile (?) tribute to him on social media. Remember her? She’s the one who ranted about Harvey Weinstein raping her… she didn’t do that at a police station, but chose the Cannes film festival as a stage. And what a stage it was… And a few days before Bourdain’s suicide, she was seen with a young French journalist (Hugo Clement, for those who know) in Rome.
Please excuse my semi-journalistic account of events before I launch into what is really of purport to me here. Anthony’s life… and his death.
Since he died, the whole world discovered they loved him. The entire planet, literally. From famous chefs to a famous ex-President of the United States, from people in the Philippines to Latinos in the U.S…. everyone had an Anthony anecdote. A moment they spent, a memory they had… how someway or the other, he touched our lives.
I only met the man on TV. I began watching him in his travel food show “No Reservations”. I loved the connect he had with people. The way he would sit empathetically and hear their stories. He didn’t do it for the show. He did it because he cared about where they’d been, what they’d been through and how that translated into their food. That was his signature. But it wasn’t calculated… because one cannot construct empathy. It’s either a given or it’s not. The authenticity is what permeated through the images beamed from his peregrinations to places like Haiti or Kurdistan. He tried and tested everything completely off the beaten track of more refined gastronomy. He was a chef for sure, but over and above, he was a foodie. And he made us open our eyes on things we’d never have had looked at. He made us see people’s pain, their daily difficulties… and how food was a way to understand their story, their history. He showed the smallest villager in some remote corner of the world the same respect he showed his more famed guests on his show. He heard them with the same intensity. His comment to them was always raw, unfiltered. He bore his heart in his tattooed arms.
Perhaps one of his famous scenes, and one of my favourite moments, was when he sat on a plastic stool with Barack Obama in a little Vietnamese eatery in Hanoi. The moment was epic. It captured the simplicity, the veracity, of two very great men in their own respects. I have rarely seen a better moment pictured on screen. (So much so, that the eatery encased the table and stools on which Obama and Bourdain sat in glass, and keep it like a museum memento.) And upon his death, Obama rightly said: “He taught us about food — but more importantly, about its ability to bring us together. To make us a little less afraid of the unknown. We’ll miss him.”
How does someone who potentially has the best job in the world, as he himself said, come to suicide? Bourdain had openly battled various forms of substance addictions. In his various publications, he admitted to having failed at a number of personal things… Like the rest of us, he had his demons. Like the rest of us, he battled them. But on that day last week, something made him decide to stop.
My heart jolted when I heard the news. My first thought was: if he gave up, how can I carry on? Suicide isn’t something that one decides in a day. It’s a battle over time. It’s talking yourself into and out of it every single day. When Bourdain decided to give in, it’s potentially because he could no longer talk himself out of it. Nor did he allow anyone else to. Why would have anyone let someone like that die? Would he have done it if he knew the outpour of love that would come from his death?
But what did his death prompt? The depression conversation. The suicide hotline numbers shared by everyone online. People who didn’t necessarily know Bourdain still needed to let others know they could be heard. But for someone who’s been fighting depression for a while, and I don’t mean the mood swings or premenstrual anxiety, I mean the real thing. The read demon. The devil that puts you on the ledge of the world and tells you to jump.. From someone who lives with the demon on daily basis, I can safely tell you no one really listens. So many celebrities come forward and talk about it. Media get into a frenzy. When someone like Bourdain hangs himself there’s a buzz… But then it dies out. Like he did.
Because, in the end, do you want to know my story? Would you be able to tell me something other than ‘I’m so sorry’, and ‘stop complaining’ or ‘you have everything to live for’? Would you call me over and spend time with me? Would you give me a hug? Would you check up on me every single day because you know everyday was a day on the ledge, every day was a day with a noose around my neck? Would you care for me like I was sick?
Because depression is a sickness. It gives no signs or symptoms to the outer world. The word itself is carelessly used by many people who’re just feeling a dip in their day. The same who will come with a truckload of troubles to dump on you, completely unaware that you’re standing at the edge of the cliff. Many find that cliff, and jump. Because no one cared enough to see there was cliff. Because we no longer live in a society that cares to the core. We live in a world where people like Bourdain can go hang themselves, because if he listened to others, with meaning, with intent, with love… no one listened to him.
Anthony Bourdain: gone to Parts Unknown….rest in peace with No Reservations.