Anthony Bourdain, the chef, writer, and Emmy-winning television personality, died Friday morning of an apparent suicide at the age of 61. His death was confirmed to CNN, which reported that the Parts Unknown host was in Strasbourg, France, filming an episode of the series when chef Eric Ripert, a longtime friend of Bourdain’s, found him unresponsive in his hotel room.
“It is with extraordinary sadness we can confirm the death of our friend and colleague, Anthony Bourdain,” CNN said in a statement Friday morning. “His love of great adventure, new friends, fine food and drink and the remarkable stories of the world made him a unique storyteller. His talents never ceased to amaze us and we will miss him very much. Our thoughts and prayers are with his daughter and family at this incredibly difficult time.”
French authorities later revealed that Bourdain hanged himself with a bathrobe belt. Police added that they did not suspect foul play and that a toxicology report would be conducted to determine whether Bourdain had medication, drugs or alcohol in his system.
“Anthony gave all of himself and everything that he did,” actress and Bourdain’s girlfriend Asia Argento wrote. “His brilliant, Fearless Spirit touched and inspired so many, and his generosity knew no bounds. He was my love, my rock, my protector. I am beyond devastated. My thoughts are with his family. I would ask that you respect their privacy and mine.”
“He taught us about food — but more importantly, about its ability to bring us together,” Barack Obama wrote. “To make us a little less afraid of the unknown. We’ll miss him.”
“Anthony was a dear friend,” Ripert told The New York Times. “He was an exceptional human being, so inspiring and generous. One of the great storytellers of our time who connected with so many. I wish him peace. My love and prayers are with his family, friends and loved ones.”
Bourdain worked in the dregs of the New York City restaurant scene for years before eventually becoming the executive chef at the French bistro Brasserie Les Halles. His experience in the industry led to the 2000 book Kitchen Confidential, in which he offered an unapologetic, 360-degree view of the American dining experience. Bourdain described what takes place behind the scenes in brutal, often hilarious detail, changing the way restaurant-goers considered everything from their appreciation of oysters to the best day of the week to order meat. The book became a bestseller and launched what turned into a prolific career as a television host.
After a two-year stint hosting A Cook’s Tour on the Food Network, Bourdain began hosting No Reservations on the Travel Channel in 2005. The show saw Bourdain travel to both major metropolitan areas and far-flung locales around the globe, where he sampled local cuisine and provided insight into the relationship between food and culture. The show ran for nine seasons and won two Emmys. After leaving the Travel Channel in 2012, Bourdain began hosting CNN’s Parts Unknown in 2013. A year later, he won a Peabody Award. The show, which was in the middle of its 11th season at the time of Bourdain’s death, featured the chef traveling the world while offering his perspective on the food, culture and politics. In a 2017 episode, he shared a $6 meal of noodles with President Obama in Hanoi, Vietnam.
Bourdain was a titan of popular food culture, and even as his celebrity grew, he retained the rebellious, disaffected persona first projected in Kitchen Confidential. In addition to the book that launched his career, Bourdain authored several cookbooks, essay collections and works of fiction to complement his work onscreen. He was a ubiquitous presence on various food programs, always serving as the definitive authority on whatever issue – or dish – was brought to the table. As America’s interest in food culture grew, and along with it a wave of celebrity chefs, none were as thoroughly respected both inside and outside of the industry as Bourdain.
For years, Bourdain battled substance abuse. In Kitchen Confidential, he detailed with remarkable honesty the lurid depths to which he sank while addicted to heroin and cocaine in the 1980s. Though he eventually kicked the worst of his habits, he never shied away from discussing them. “I am a very unusual case,” he once wrote in a Reddit AMA. “Most people who kick heroin and cocaine have to give up on everything. Maybe ’cause my experiences were so awful in the end, I’ve never been tempted to relapse.”
Though he may have given up hard drugs, Bourdain endured as a poster boy for excess, whether in food, sex or illicit substances. Alcohol was a fixture of both No Reservations and Parts Unknown, and the host’s ability to ingratiate himself with locals over a few pints or a specialty cocktail was part of the show’s charm and one of several reasons Bourdain was able to so effectively portray the world’s various food cultures as they really were.
Bourdain’s wide circle of friends and admirers extended deeply to the music world. He particularly loved the Velvet Underground, the Ramones the New York Dolls and the other artists that helped define the musical culture of the city where he built his career. Writing for Spin about famed New York punk venue CBGB in 2012, Bourdain noted how “the irradiated spawn of tormented loners who had grown up listening to the Stooges and the Velvets, wannabe poets, failed romantics – anyone with enough enthusiasm or anger to pick up a guitar, it seemed, converged on the only place that would have them.” Bourdain certainly considered himself one of those tormented disciples of the city’s rock icons, only instead of a guitar he picked up a chef’s knife.
Some of the most memorable episodes of his shows were ones that featured guest appearances from his favorite artists. He ate barbecue with Dan Auerbach and Patrick Carney of the Black Keys. He dined in Miami with punk icon Iggy Pop. In 2012, he let Sleigh Bells give him a tattoo after shotgunning a few beers at South by Southwest in Austin, Texas.
“I feel so thankful for him to introducing me to a world I never knew, the world of food and especially food around the world,” Questlove wrote. “Anthony also believed, and talked often, about how all forms of creativity were connected: how chefs and drummers and comedians and actors and directors and painters all drew on the same well of thoughts and emotions. That feeling stuck with me.”
The theme song to Parts Unknown was written by Josh Homme and Mark Lanegan, the latter tweeting his sorrow over the news of Bourdain’s death, as did several other musicians.
I’m heartbroken. @Bourdain was such a positive force in my life and so many others. A great friend and artist. What a sad fucking day
— mark lanegan (@marklanegan) June 8, 2018
Anthony Bourdain was so talented and smart.Loved… https://t.co/EHn8T7MkhI
— Marky Ramone (@MarkyRamone) June 8, 2018
MESSAGE FROM IGGY: “I’m in shock having just heard that Anthony Bourdain has passed away. I loved the guy, and he was a light of kindness and good vibes in my life.
— Iggy Pop (@IggyPop) June 8, 2018
Bourdain’s exceptional writing made this one formerly picky, fearful eater very brave and want to try everything and I’ll always be grateful for him and the worlds he opened
— ?? Lin-Manuel Miranda ?️? (@Lin_Manuel) June 8, 2018
In the months preceding his death, Bourdain became a vocal advocate of the #MeToo movement after Argento came forward to accuse Harvey Weinstein of raping her. Through his Twitter account and other media appearances, Bourdain called out critics of the movement and the prominent men accused of sexual misconduct, including fellow celebrity chef Mario Batali. “I came out of a brutal, oppressive business that was historically unfriendly to women,” Bourdain said on The Daily Show in January. “I knew a lot of women, it turned out, who had stories about their experiences – about people I knew – who did not feel I was the sort of person they could confide in.”
His selfless social advocacy was a far cry from his youthful hedonistic lifestyle, one that he admits should have caught up with him years earlier. “I should’ve died in my 20s,” he told Biography.com in 2016. “I became successful in my 40s. I became a dad in my 50s. I feel like I’ve stolen a car – a really nice car – and I keep looking in the rearview mirror for flashing lights.”