On June 8, 2018, people around the world mourned the loss of celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain. In a tragic turn of events, Bourdain’s lifeless body had been discovered in a French hotel room by his long-time collaborator Eric Ripert. And just hours later, a heartbroken Ripert opened up to Today about the passing of his best buddy.
Long before Ripert and Bourdain first met, however, Bourdain learned his culinary craft in the kitchens of various New York restaurants. That’s only fitting too, as the celebrated chef was born in the Big Apple in June 1956 and graduated from the city’s illustrious Culinary Institute of America 22 years later.
The restaurants in which Bourdain plied his trade included One Fifth Avenue, Sullivan’s and The Supper Club. But what gave him the drive to succeed in this industry in the first place? Well, speaking to The Guardian in January 2017, he said, “It was watching chef Bobby screwing a bride over a barrel in the garbage area, while her wedding party dined inside, that made me want to be a chef.”
But whatever his real motivation, Bourdain enjoyed an envy-inducing career. And in 1998 he became of the executive chef of the restaurant to which he is still most closely related: Brasserie Les Halles. Indeed, he was being described as that restaurant’s “chef at large” as late as 2014.
It was while at Brasserie Les Halles, too, that Bourdain published his now-famous article, “Don’t Eat Before Reading This,” in The New Yorker in 1999. In the article, the chef got real about what goes down inside a working kitchen. Choice quote? “The philistine who orders his food well-done is not likely to notice the difference between food and flotsam.”
Bourdain later evolved “Don’t Eat Before Reading This” into a bestselling non-fiction book called Kitchen Confidential: Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly, which came out in 2000. And his second non-fiction book was written alongside his first TV series: 2002’s A Cook’s Tour.
That show ran for a total of 35 episodes before coming to an end in 2003. But Bourdain’s television career was far from over. Indeed, in 2005 he began his second series, Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations, which eventually aired until 2012. He later also won several Emmy Awards for Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown, which ran from 2013 until his death.
But it was after the release of Kitchen Confidential that Bourdain first met Eric Ripert. Indeed, Ripert told Hamptons magazine in 2012 that he called Bourdain and asked him to lunch after the book’s publication. “We have been friends ever since,” Ripert said.
That friendship naturally showed whenever the pair appeared on screen together in the subsequent years. In 2017, for instance, Eater.com wrote, “There is perhaps no greater bromance on television than the one between Anthony Bourdain and Eric Ripert.” And perhaps the pair felt the same, as Ripert made appearances in all of Bourdain’s television series.
For his part, Bourdain said in a 2017 promo for Parts Unknown, “I like to bring the distinguished three-star Michelin chef and good friend Eric Ripert someplace every year and torture him.” In one 2015 episode of the show, for example, Bourdain good-naturedly tells Ripert that he’ll be reincarnated as a “diseased, itinerant mime wandering the streets scrounging for money.”
Unfortunately, however, it was while the pair were collaborating on a Parts Unknown episode that a tragedy occurred. On June 8, 2018, the lifeless body of Bourdain was discovered in his hotel room in France. The cause of death was later deemed suicide.
According to The New York Times, Bourdain was staying at Le Chambard in Kaysersberg. In the days leading up to his death, he had reportedly attended dinner and breakfast with Ripert on most nights. But after Bourdain didn’t show up on Thursday night or Friday morning, he was apparently discovered hanging in the bathroom.
By all accounts, Bourdain’s suicide came somewhat out of the blue. Certainly, a prosecutor for the case told The New York Times, “This leads us to suspect that not much preparation and premeditation went into the act and leads us more in the direction of an impulsive act.”
After news of Bourdain’s death was reported worldwide, tributes naturally flowed in for the highly regarded chef. For instance, Anderson Cooper from CNN said many were suffering “heartache and sadness,” while Bourdain’s girlfriend, Asia Argento, wrote on Twitter that she was “beyond devastated.”
And of course Ripert had his own statement to make. He told Today, and later repeated on Twitter, “Anthony was a dear friend. 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.”
Three days after Bourdain’s death, actor Rose McGowan wrote on open letter in which she claimed that the chef had suffered with depression. Speaking about Bourdain and Argento’s relationship, McGowan wrote, “In the beginning of their relationship, Anthony told a mutual friend, ‘[He’s] never met anyone who wanted to die more than [him].’”
McGowan was also quick to implore anybody with similar feelings of suicide or depression to find help. She wrote, “We need you here. You matter. You exist. You count. There is help a phone call away, reach out.” This powerful message was endorsed elsewhere too.
After all, Bourdain’s death occurred just three days after the suicide of fashion designer Kate Spade. And while the two icons were not connected, their passing raised immediate awareness of suicide and mental health issues. The New Yorker even published an article entitled “Anthony Bourdain, Kate Spade and the Preventable Tragedies of Suicide.”
In it, the magazine reported that suicide “claims more American lives each year than do automobile accidents.” Part of the reason for this, the article argued, was that “there is a dearth of empathy, even of kindness, in the national conversation, and those deficits turn ordinary neurosis into actionable despair.”
And while there are no easy answers, the article argues that the mental health system itself needs to be improved. Victor Schwartz, from a suicide prevention group, said, “We need preventive public-health initiatives on managing depression and anxiety in the pre-crisis stage.”
Anthony Bourdain, however, appeared to believe that there was only one way to be rid of his personal demons. But while the world mourns his passing, it is perhaps some comfort that his thoughts, opinions and quips will live forever in print and on film.