As one of the world’s most celebrated chefs, Anthony Bourdain left his many admirers reeling when he passed away during a visit to France. But while the 61-year-old’s tragic death posed many questions, the release of his toxicology report ensured that at least one of those queries has been answered. Here’s a look at the star’s eventful life and its desperate end.
Born in New York in 1956 to a record company executive father and journalist mother, Anthony Bourdain largely grew up in New Jersey. And the future chef developed his passion for food while young, during a trip to France with his family. He later landed a job in a seafood restaurant while studying at New York’s Vassar College and went on to earn a place at The Culinary Institute of America.
Following his graduation, Bourdain entered the trade and ended up in charge of numerous New York City kitchens, such as One Fifth Avenue, Sullivan’s and the Supper Club. Then, in the late 1990s, Manhattan’s Brasserie Les Halles appointed Bourdain as executive chef. He continued to enjoy a close working relationship with the establishment until its final service in 2017.
And, of course, Bourdain also established himself as a fine culinary writer thanks to non-fiction books such as 2000’s Kitchen Confidential, 2001’s A Cook’s Tour and 2006’s The Nasty Bits. He also published a cookbook, a thriller and a graphic novel, and his work often appeared in the likes of The New Yorker, the Los Angeles Times and U.K. newspaper The Independent.
Meanwhile, Bourdain’s TV career began in 2002 when he presented the Food Network’s culinary travelogue A Cook’s Tour. In 2005, moreover, he moved to the Travel Channel to host Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations. The Beirut episode of the show, in which Bourdain and his team found themselves in the middle of the Israel-Lebanon conflict, would ultimately receive a 2007 Emmy nomination.
Then, in 2011 Bourdain returned to the Travel Channel to film a new series called The Layover; he later executive produced a similar celebrity-fronted show titled The Getaway. And in 2013 Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown premiered on CNN. Filmed in various locations across the globe, including Tokyo, Jamaica and Nigeria, the show also welcomed President Barack Obama as a special guest in 2016.
Bourdain also narrated acclaimed PBS series The Mind of a Chef and served as a mentor on ABC’s The Taste. He additionally enjoyed cameos on Miami Ink, Archer, Yo Gabba Gabba! and The Simpsons. And in 2015 the writer played himself on the big screen in The Big Short; in the movie, he explained collateralized debt obligation by way of seafood stew.
But, of course, Bourdain was just as renowned for his larger-than-life personality as his talent in the kitchen. Often hailed as the bad boy of the culinary world, he regularly chastised the concept of the celebrity chef, made sarcastic remarks about vegans and swore like a trooper. He was also famed for trying unusual dishes, including a whole cobra in Vietnam and a warthog’s anus in Namibia.
Bourdain also adhered to the rock ’n’ roll lifestyle during his early years, with heroin, cocaine and LSD just a few of the substances he used. Reminiscing in Kitchen Confidential about his time working in a fashionable SoHo restaurant in the 1980s, he said, “We were high all the time, sneaking off to the walk-in refrigerator at every opportunity to ‘conceptualize.’ Hardly a decision was made without drugs.”
And Bourdain’s love life was fairly eventful too. He married Nancy Putoski, his high school sweetheart, in 1985; sadly, though, the pair split 20 years later. The chef then wed model Ottavia Busia in 2007 – the same year in which their daughter Ariane was born. The couple separated in 2016, however, and a year later Bourdain began stepping out with Italian actress Asia Argento.
Then, in June 2018 Bourdain visited France with friend Eric Ripert to film a Parts Unknown episode in Strasbourg. But, tragically, it was on this trip that the chef took his own life in his Kaysersberg hotel room. A public prosecutor for the nearby Colmar area declared that the suicide looked to have been a spur-of-the-moment decision.
And following the news, tributes poured in from famous figures both part of and outside the culinary sphere. Fellow chef Andrew Zimmern described Bourdain as a “symphony,” while longtime friend Ripert hailed him as “an exceptional human being, so inspiring and generous. [Bourdain was] one of the great storytellers who connected with so many.”
CNN president Jeff Zucker also paid homage to Bourdain, saying, “Tony will be greatly missed not only for his work but also for the passion with which he did it.” And perhaps one of the most glowing tributes came from Barack Obama, who wrote, “[Bourdain] taught us about food – but more importantly, about its ability to bring us together. To make us a little less afraid of the unknown.”
But arguably the most emotional words were given by Bourdain’s girlfriend, Asia Argento. The actress described the chef as someone who “gave all of himself in everything that he did.” She added, “He was my love, my rock, my protector. I am beyond devastated.”
Furthermore, Bourdain had died just days after Kate Spade, the celebrated fashion designer, had taken her own life at her apartment in Manhattan. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, suicide rates are on the rise across the nation. In fact, 25 different states saw the number of people taking their own lives increase by over 30 percent during the course of almost two decades to 2016.
Bourdain was cremated in his beloved France, with his remains being sent to his only sibling, younger brother Christopher. His mother Gladys also revealed that the family would be holding a private intimate ceremony as “[Bourdain] would want as little fuss as possible.” And, in fact, Gladys had an additional tribute to pay her son, she said: she’d be getting a small “Tony” tattoo on her wrist.
Many questions emerged in the wake of Bourdain’s death, though. And, certainly, one of them has to be this: what drove the star to such a tragic decision? But while we’re unlikely to ever find out the answer to that conundrum, thanks to the toxicology report published weeks later, we do know whether he had any narcotics in his system at the time.
That’s because a French official has revealed that illegal substances weren’t a contributing factor to Bourdain’s death. Prosecutor Christian de Rocquigny told The New York Times that only a small amount of nonnarcotic medicine had been discovered in the late star’s system; this was only a remedial dose, however, and so hadn’t played a part in the chef’s tragic passing.
Meanwhile, many great stories about Bourdain emerged following his untimely death. Queens of the Stone Age singer Josh Homme revealed, for instance, that his daughter Camille had once received a letter from the chef after she had grown upset at some of his antics on TV. Bourdain had smashed one of Homme’s guitars against a tree; the star later wrote to Camille on learning of her distress, telling her that it had only been a prank.
Other nice-guy tales include the time that Bourdain helped to organize a culinary trip for a boy with leukemia. He also once helped turn an octogenarian chain-restaurant reviewer into a publishing sensation. And Bourdain showed further philanthropy when he raised just over $3,000 for charity after selling his Ernst Benz watch.