When celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain took his own life in early June 2018, the world was left in shock. And the pain caused by the 61-year-old’s untimely death prompted those closest to him to post paeans to their late friend’s life on social media. But actress Rose McGowan took a different tack with her own online tribute. And her impassioned tearful comments touched many and gave us all food for thought.
Born on June 25, 1956, in New York City, Bourdain knew from a young age that he had all the right ingredients for a career in the catering world. A 1978 graduate of The Culinary Institute of America in his home town, he started out as a dishwasher before diligently working his way up to become an executive chef by the end of the 1990s. And thanks to the different roles Bourdain adopted down the years, working in varied restaurants and eateries, the maestro developed an intimate and thorough knowledge of the food industry. But it was when he served up his experiences of the food game in print and on screen – coupled with a somewhat salty side of straight-talking honesty – that Bourdain became a global star.
In fact, the celebrity chef could trace his media career back to a 1999 article he penned for The New Yorker magazine. Titled “Don’t Eat Before Reading This,” Bourdain offered up a raw and unfiltered account, lifting the lid on working life in New York’s restaurant kitchens. Well received by foodies and literary tastemakers alike, the piece established the chef as a writer of some repute. Moreover, the essay’s enduring influence also led to the chef getting out of the kitchen and developing a TV career, hosting successful shows such as A Cook’s Tour in the early 21st century .
Nevertheless, despite the sometimes confrontational demeanor he displayed in public, there was a more sensitive side to Bourdain. As his career progressed and his fame spread, the chef used his celebrity status to cook up publicity for a series of causes. In particular, Bourdain advocated justice for victims of sexual assault and latterly supported the #MeToo movement. He even hosted a special dinner event for sexual harassment whistleblowers, including his girlfriend, Asia Argento, and their close friend McGowan.
However, behind Bourdain’s outspoken public star persona there was a private and insular individual who was struggling with some serious inner demons. A former substance abuser, the TV personality suffered from severe depression. Nonetheless, the guarded gourmand rarely discussed his feelings and only ever hinted at his internal torment on the odd occasion. One of these was caught on film in 2016, when he sat down with a therapist for an edition of Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown.
Indeed, in an episode of the food and travel show shot in Argentina, the star noted how something as seemingly unimportant as being served an inferior hamburger could massively alter his mood. Bourdain told the mental-health professional, “I find myself in a spiral of depression that can last for days. I feel kind of like a freak and I feel kind of isolated. I communicate for a living, but I’m terrible at communicating with people I care about.”
Although this onscreen openness may have been seen as a sign of good self-awareness and a potentially healthy mindset, behind the scenes Bourdain continued to spiral further down into depression. In early summer 2018, while shooting another episode of Parts Unknown in France, the star – according to friend and travel companion Éric Ripert – was in a continually low mood. And, on June 8, Bourdain was found dead in his Haut-Rhin hotel room from an apparent suicide.
Perhaps due in part to the celebrity chef’s reticent nature, Bourdain’s tragic death came totally out of the blue for his family, friends and fans alike. Reacting on Twitter, fellow TV cook Gordon Ramsay commented, “Stunned and saddened by the loss of Anthony Bourdain.” Meanwhile, Chrissy Teigen could not contain her disbelief – “Horrible,” the model tweeted. “Why, why, why?”
Although his death left many blindsided, nevertheless, Bourdain was still fondly remembered. Ripert – who discovered his friend’s body – called the chef, “An exceptional human being, so inspiring and generous.” Furthermore, President Barack Obama shared his grief and tweeted that the star “taught us about food – but more importantly, about its ability to bring us together. To make us a little less afraid of the unknown.”
Likewise, those closest to the chef also aired their massive sense of bereavement. Argento also took to Twitter and said, “He was my love, my rock, my protector. I am beyond devastated.” But while Bourdain’s partner maintained a pretty brave face for the public, others were less restrained. Indeed, Argento’s friend McGowan was not afraid to make her true feelings known.
Opting to tweet a video rather than a written statement, the outspoken actress adopted a different, more forthright attitude to Bourdain’s other buddies. One of the figureheads of #MeToo since its inception in January 2018, the film-star activist had met the departed chef through Argento. And McGowan’s gratitude for Bourdain’s involvement in the movement was clear to see in her emotional response.
However, the actress had no intention of just filming a fond farewell to her late friend. Fighting back tears, McGowan spoke with great anger mixed with immense sadness as she implored “those considering suicide” not to give up hope. She sobbed, “Please call for help because it’s a permanent solution to a temporary problem.”
But McGowan’s tears were not just for herself. “Oh, Asia Argento, you’ve been through so much,” the actress cried out to her bereft friend. In addition, McGowan underlined her mixed emotions in the caption of her tweet. It read, “Anthony I am so mad at you. You were so loved, the world is not better without you.”
Many of those mourning Bourdain on social media – including Gordon Ramsay and singer Mandy Moore – included contact details for suicide-prevention agencies in their posts. And McGowan also urged others with depression to be unashamed about seeking help. The actress beseeched sufferers, “Please call a hotline. Please reach out.”
And to support her heartfelt plea, McGowan subsequently posted an image containing contact details for various suicide-prevention phonelines around the world. And once more she encouraged her followers to talk through their issues and think of the ones who love them most. She insisted, “Please know that your family is not better off without you.”
Since posting her original heartbroken video on the day of Bourdain’s death, McGowan has received support for both her loss and message of love. “Thank you so much,” wrote one Twitter user. “The last bit, that last sentence, actually made me cry because that’s exactly what we need. To be seen and valued that much.”
Nevertheless, this was the internet and needless to say McGowan’s message also had its fair share of detractors. For instance, some social media users argued that mental-health specialists are simply unavailable in certain places. Meanwhile, others accused the actress of cynically seeking publicity, while a few – prompted by a widely-shared paparazzi shot – accused Argento of cheating on Bourdain just days before his death.
In response, McGowan issued a rebuttal on June 11 via an open letter posted on the Talkhouse website. Writing on the forum for creatives on behalf of Argento – and with the actress’ blessing – McGowan revealed that the couple had enjoyed “a free relationship.” She showed disgust at those attempting to apportion guilt to her close friend. The star stated, “Do NOT do the sexist thing and burn a woman on the pyre of misplaced blame.”
Moreover, McGowan reiterated her point regarding openness over mental wellbeing. And – after revealing that Bourdain had gone against the advice of mental-health professionals before his death – she again sent out a direct appeal to those in pain. The actress wrote, “We are asking you… to read and learn about mental illness, suicide and depression before you make it worse.”
In the wake of Bourdain’s tragic death, more and more people are recognizing the dangers of dismissing or ignoring the signs of poor mental health. As McGowan rightly points out, those struggling with isolating issues such as depression and anxiety can ease their suffering by sharing with others. Sadly, the celebrity chef was unable to fully open up, but it does not need to be that way. Sometimes life-saving help is just a phone call away.