I was still on the sofa at four in the afternoon, still half-dressed, when I decided that my life could not be complete if I did not somehow become friends with Anthony Bourdain. My son, then a young teenager, also in his underwear, was as inert and transfixed as I was. We were both locked into the ninth or tenth consecutive hour of a Labor Day weekend marathon of Bourdain’s cultural-journey-through-food breakthrough show, “No Reservations.”
I remember the exact moment, the exact image:
The long, lanky, exquisitely sad-faced visage of a road-worn Bourdain sitting on broken pavement in a South American alley – Buenos Aires or maybe Montevideo, there is no way to be sure when twenty episodes are consumed at once — his back to a stone wall, arms crossed above his knees, watching children play at rag-tag soccer with a deflated ball. And with the older men, he is sharing Siete y Tres, the backstreet concoction of cheap red wine and Coca-Cola. And all this imagery with his narration — his exquisite writing so weighted with love for other worlds and their peoples – just washing over another delicate moment.
“This guy is so fucking real,” I remember telling my son.
“This guy,” Ethan replied, correcting me, “might be the absolute coolest person on the entire planet.”
Still prostrate before the Travel Channel two hours later, I was located by my more culturally literate wife who informed me not only that my discovery of Tony Bourdain’s greatness was belated – the man was already a phenomenon in the world of cuisine — but also that we had met and enjoyed part of an evening with him at a crime-writing convention in England some years before. Freshly boosted by the success of Kitchen Confidential, Bourdain had been trying his hand at crime fiction – a master storyteller still sampling forms before simply inventing the documentarian oeuvre for which he was perfection itself.
On that night in Manchester, Bourdain compassed us both and immediately apologized for the poor treatment he had given Baltimore in his writing: “Forgive me. What I remember of Baltimore is that I was an addict at that point and I had the hardest time finding heroin there.”
Defending our city as best one can, we both assured him that this was no fair reflection on Baltimore. It merely marked him as the most incompetent heroin addict on record.
“That guy?” I remembered. “He was grand.”
“You really, really need to read Kitchen Confidential,” she told me.
And I did. And from that moment forward my primary mission for all of that autumn was to hang out and eat and drink and become friends with this Anthony Bourdain fellow.
* * *
In the end, I cold-called him. And I don’t actually remember what I said in the opening seventeen-paragraph ramble of desperate exposition that followed his simple, “Hello.”
I know only that I was talking at standard front-stoop reporter-interrogative speed, which is to say at enough revolutions-per-minute so there are no pauses long enough for the subject-victim to say “no comment” or “I have to go” or “how did you get this address, you sick parasitic bastard” before slamming the door in your face. I just kept talking until I ran out of stupid justifications for having bothered him.
The stupidest of which was, perhaps, this:
“I make television shows and I’ve got a show order from HBO for a post-Katrina drama in New Orleans that features a chef trying to make a go of it after the flood. And, Mister Bourdain, while I love great food, I’m perfectly ignorant of how it actually comes to be. In other words, I like driving cars fast and I have no idea what’s under the hood of one. Would it be possible to buy you a meal and pick your brain?”
It was Laura who came up with that lie. And it was a lie, however plausible it sounded in the moment, or however true it ultimately became. At the time that I approached Tony about helping us with Treme, I wasn’t actually thinking about the task of writing Jannette DeSautel or her culinary adventures. I hadn’t focused much on that arc or on what Bourdain could do with it. No, I just wanted a bromance.
We met at Sushi Yasuda on 43rd Street near Grand Central, with Laura carrying a pen and notebook to maintain the fraud of a work meeting. Every now and then she would write something down, but really my wife was just as smitten.
And, of course, he was as he seemed on all those hours of television: Warm, engaged, curious, all of it glossed with a veneer of self-mockery that you understood was well practiced, yet nonetheless genuine. He wore life’s mistakes as a badge and laughed at the improbability of his newfound cultural iconography. He said he felt like he was now racing through life in a stolen car, checking the rearview, but incredibly, somehow, there were no misery lights yet coming for him. And me, the police reporter from Baltimore with an HBO production deal, heard the absolute honesty and wonder in that.
A lot of people will tell you that on meeting Tony – despite how extraordinary a being he was – they somehow felt as if they’d known him for years. In part, this was the natural result of having so much of his wit and intellect bleed across our television screens. But just as elemental, I believe, was the man’s almost unlimited capacity for empathy, for feeling the lives and loves and hopes of others. He listened as few listen. And when he spoke, it was often to deliver some precise personal recollection that was an echo or simile on what was still in his ear. He abhorred a non sequitur; for him, human communication — much like his core ideas about food and travel and being – was about finding the sacred middle between people.
I am someone who can’t do two things at once. At one point during that lunch, while struggling to talk coherently about a culinary arc in Treme that I hadn’t actually thought much about prior to meeting Bourdain, I made the error of filling my soy cup with sake. Being exceedingly polite on this first meeting, Tony said nothing. Later, walking back across town, I replayed that submoronic moment to my wife, who laughed and made it so much worse by noting that Bourdain himself had savored Naomichi Yasuda’s fare without soy sauce at all. As one does when the fish is so transcendently fresh.
Oh Christ. Fuck me.
Months later, when we gathered for the first time in New Orleans to begin the actual work, I joked that given my lunchtime performance, we were lucky to have him deigning to help us write the DeSautel storyline.
“You were a complete barbarian,” he assured me. “Fortunately, Naomichi didn’t visit our table or I would have had to disavow you and all your works publicly.”
He was always that funny – either dry in his rhetorical savagery, or over-the-top hyperbolic in his foaming rage at vegetarians or micro-beer experts or elitist social or political orders. Everything built to a moment of careful, thoughtful wit. He often spoke as well as he wrote, and given the stylistic command of his prose work, this is saying something. I know a lot of writers. Only a few of us speak as we write. Shit, on a bad day, we can’t even write as we are supposed to write. Tony was never arch or florid; his comic exaggerations and rhetorical provocations were always somehow perfectly measured. He said what he meant and he meant what he said and he landed all of it. As a conversationalist, he simply delivered, moment to moment.
I could spend days explaining how perfectly his written scenes for Treme serviced Janette Desautel and her journey – and more importantly, how carefully and honestly he traversed the wounded, shoulder-chipped post-Katrina moodiness and pride of the New Orleans culinary world. The scenes were fresh butter. They need only be trimmed to fit in the expanse of fifty-eight minute episodes, and even then, what we had to consign to the cutting-room floor was entirely worthy. It died heedlessly, for space only.
His first scene of a kitchen at work crested gracefully in this moment: The worthy Kim Dickens as DeSautel, her restaurant finally reopened, plating a shrimp-and-grits entrée crowned by a crusted brown-red prawn, bug-eyes and antennae upward, praying to whatever deity governs such transcendent perfection.
“Take a picture of that shit,” she tells her waitress with pride and an insider’s voice of a cook in command of her kitchen.
From that line of dialogue forward, we had no fear for the arc – neither in its direction, nor its execution. For four seasons, in the writers’ room and on the page, Tony guided and wrote us all the way home.
* * *
Tellingly, what Tony wanted to say with the story arc in Treme was precisely the theme he was pursuing in his own work: Move, go, journey, address the new and different, acknowledge the vast distance and all of the epic social and cultural pluralism and then — at the same time — celebrate the commonality of being human as well.
Despite the hermetic tendencies of New Orleans itself when it comes to culture — all the more exacerbated and heightened by the genuine feeling of civic siege that existed there after Katrina – Bourdain insisted that creative and personal growth is, for all us, dependent on encounters with The Other, on a journey from the known and comfortable to the alien and disorienting. It was Tony who argued that once her own restaurant faltered, DeSautel should journey to a volatile culinary capital and be tossed about in Goldlilocks fashion as a line cook in various New York kitchens – this one too hot for her, that one too cool – until she lands in a place where new lessons and experiences begin to permeate. Then and only then should she return home, marry the new to the known, and be more than she would be otherwise. That’s what he argued successfully in our drama. That’s what he argued successfully in his world journeys on television.
He was precise when he told Barack Obama that he wished more Americans had passports. And indeed, it’s hard to argue against the idea that the portion of our republic that hasn’t ventured abroad is the deadweight now dragging us into national mediocrity, insisting that all points of the compass save ours lack basic liberties, or don’t exalt human values, or don’t eat, drink, cure the sick, proscribe violence or educate fools with greater efficacy than we do in this fading realm. They won’t go there. They won’t dare. Yet they already know how exceptional America is and how miserable and frightening the rest of the world must surely be.
Go, move, see, feel, eat – grow. The Church of Bourdain was founded not merely on the ever-more-vulnerable national credo that all Americans are created equal, but on the much more ambitious insistence that this declaration might be applied wherever you wandered and with whomsoever you cooked or shared a meal. He remains, for many of us, the American that we wish ourselves to be in the world’s sight. To have him widely displayed as our countryman, open to and caring about the rest of the world, and being so amid our current political degradation — this was ever more important and heroic. To lose him now, amid so many fear-mongering, xenophobic tantrums by those engaged in our misrule, is hideous and grievous.
But make no mistake: It wasn’t love of food that led Bourdain to the embrace of a shared human experience, of a world merely hiding its great commonalities behind vast and obvious culinary variations. It was the other way around. Tony was intensely political, a man always aware of those at the margins, or those who seem never to be reached by wealth or status or recognition.
When he came to Baltimore for an episode, he eschewed the usual subjects of crab cakes and oyster shuckers and instead willfully crossed to the other side of the city to highlight the palate of black Baltimore – the pit beef stands and the fried lake trout joints (not trout, and damn sure not from no lake) — that are a staple in the parts of town that never show up in Baltimore Magazine’s listings of great dining experiences. Some locals were livid at the obvious omissions; many others, long ignored, took real delight.
And it was the same everywhere. He did not journey to Louisiana to dart from one white tablecloth to another among the established New Orleans eateries. Instead, he was in search of the best pho however far out Chef Menteur Highway it happened. Or even further afield, he was hours to the west at an Opelousas campground boucherie where keepers of the Cajun cultural flame battled through a 98-degree day to disassemble an entire pig at fifteen separate stations and make all of it disappear in gastronomic ways that no Royal Street restauranteur could ever fathom.
Always, wherever he went, Bourdain hunted the street food and the street people and the street parade. Once, after a day of storyboarding on Treme, my wife and I took him to a well-regarded high-end restaurant downtown and immediately, regardless of the fare itself, I knew I had erred. He’d had this experience too many times before – shit, as the chef at Les Halles, he’d delivered this experience night after night. We would have been better going on a crosstown challenge for the best roast beef po boy. Instead of pursuing much of his entrée, Bourdain asked wistfully if he could have our then-baby daughter on his knee; his own child was then three; he missed holding an infant more than he needed another plate of sweetbreads.
Yes, Tony was political in every respect; telling his stories from the left, always with an eye on inclusion, always positioned against the empty sneer of American exceptionalism, always ready to turn his gaze on anyone uncounted or ignored. At the same time, it wasn’t necessary to hew to a perfectly progressive line to break bread with the man. Journalistically, he gathered his material with an open mind, never making the basic act of humans bonding over a meal contingent on anyone’s place on the political spectrum. He could eat barbecue and shoot automatic weapons with Ted Nugent if it said something he thought relevant about the terrain in which he was traveling.
In the same spirit, I don’t think he chose his chef friends — or any of his friends — based on their political sensibilities dovetailing his own, or even on the quality and authority of their cuisine. Instead, looking sideways at the great diaspora of people I know who admired and loved Tony Bourdain, what seems most clear is how little bullshit there is. The icons of the kitchen with whom he most clearly connected, and whom he brought to Treme – Colicchio, Ripert, Dufresne, Chang – are, for all their standing and talent, remarkably devoid of cant and flummery. For Bourdain, a man of commanding and exceptional wit and talent, the greatest and most honorable fight was to stand with ordinary men – whether a New York busboy or a vendor on a Ho Chi Minh City streetcorner, a production assistant in his crew or a fan who recognized him on a subway platform. I loved him for this. It was, perhaps, the most important predicate to the great achievement of his journalism: Wherever you go, whoever you meet – there we are, all of us, so different and so much the same. And he chose, I think, his close friends in some part for their talent, but in greater part for their ability, regardless of that talent, to be themselves with all others, in all other spaces.
So I am sure, as I tell you this next story, that he surely did not blame his best friend, Eric Ripert, for serving the most exquisite meal to Henry Kissinger at Le Bernadin – the one that took place only a few tables from myself, my wife and a copse of other writer friends. Yes indeed, there he is, firm in my memory: Hunched-troll Kissinger, curved into his seat at a four-top, dancing his little spoon across the layers of Ripert’s legendary dessert egg – only a hundred plated a night for select customers – talking political science to his crisp, waspish dinner companions, the backwards consonants of his accent grating against my ears: “Vell, it is not really so hard to zee…”
The next day, when I email Bourdain a full-throated tale of this encounter, ripe with all my stunted and thwarted fury, he will forgive Eric, who lives life in a genuine construct of Buddhist thoughtfulness, disconnected from the brutalities and judgments of a political world. Eric, he will assure me, will know little of Kissinger or his works, and is wholly innocent of knowingly feeding America’s greatest living war criminal a dessert fit for prophets and angels. Indeed, I already know as much is true from the surprise on Ripert’s face when the chef came to visit our table, minutes after Kissinger had paid his bill and departed, and I sputtered out shards of raving Wikipedia entries on Chile, East Timor and Cambodia.
Okay, I reply in another email, so Ripert is innocent. But me? I knew. I could have done something. I could have summoned Aldo, the master sommelier, and asked him for the most expensive bottle of Chilean red on the wine list. I could have had the bottle quickly decanted, taken a sip for myself, and then marched over to Henry Kissinger’s table and poured it over the bastard’s head: “Compliments of Senor Allende, you ratfucking murderer.”
I waited on absolution.
Nothing. So I wrote again, offering the obvious reason for my inaction:
“But alas, we were all guests of the chef and this happened in his full dining room. Thus do manners make cowards of us all.”
A minute or two passed until Tony emailed me two words only:
* * *
Here’s the other thing: He knew everything,
I don’t mean he knew everything about food or cuisine or travel or even world culture. I mean that for having come up in kitchens, without the formality of too much higher education, Tony Bourdain was simply a brilliant autodidact. He read voraciously and widely. He read things that were relevant to his work and he read things because he simply wanted to know everything a man could possibly know about a given subject. I don’t mean he read the canon for literature and enough non-fiction to be current or relevant at parties, I mean he read the obscure, often turgid stuff that academics wade into when they want to know the last fucking detail about something. As he was about so many things, he was obsessive about what could be learned and known.
After Treme, the project in which my production team held the most hope was a careful history of the CIA from the end of World War II through to the inevitable blowback of 9-11, examining in detail America’s postwar foreign policy footprint in the world. As we began to contemplate the staffing of that writing room, Ed Burns & I brought on espionage novelists such as Dan Fesperman and began to engage in discussions with the likes of Alan Furst and Joe Kanon. Names that made sense.
Bourdain, however, pulled me up once he got wind of the project.
“I can write that stuff.”
I humored him. You’re a great writer, Tony, a fucking natural with drama as it turns out. But for this room we’re looking for a particular level of expertise…
“Yeah, of course,” he said. “I have that.”
I began to query him politely on basic stuff: Angelton and the Italian elections, Haney and the Korean fiasco, Philby and Istanbul…
“Though, of course, never mind Philby,” he interrupted, at one point, “by then the Americans had been entirely compromised by their taking on Gehlen and his crew.”
“And what, Mr. No Reservations, do you know about Reinhard Gehlen?”
He looked at me for a moment, genuinely disappointed in my lack of faith.
“I can read a fucking book. Same as the rest of you fucks.”
And he had. Every history, every memoir, every cache of made-public government files that we had been chasing in the months of preparation to write our pilot scripts and show bible – all of it had already been acquired and read by Tony Bourdain. I told him he was in, and then hurried back to Baltimore to assure Ed Burns we had a live one on our hands.
“The food guy?”
“Ed, he knows this stuff. All of it. Cold.”
Ed, a vegan, was entirely dubious. “That guy doesn’t even get nutrition and world hunger issues right.”
I could only giggle and look forward to a green light on the series and several years of Ed Burns and Tony Bourdain yelling at each other across a Baltimore writing room over the nature and purpose of pork itself, never mind the Bay of Pigs. Problem was the green light never came.
For years, ever since the end of Treme, I’d been updating Tony on a nibble from this network or that, raising his hopes for a moment, then delivering bad news the next. A year ago, we had some belief that the BBC was going to pick the project up. But no go.
Six months ago, in December, I found myself in New York doing a charity gig with Tony for the PEN writer’s group. There were always charity gigs with Tony. Some were public, and some, as we are now learning, was Bourdain making things happen without anyone knowing, without ever playing it for pride or gain. We hadn’t been in the same city for months so we went hard at the bar even before the affair began and then we kept right on going throughout, eventually making good our escape to Desmond’s, a joint just a block up from where Bourdain used to cook. He had the home field advantage, but I tried to stay with him drink for drink. A few regulars from the old days greeted him as if it was just another after-shift respite from Les Halles. A couple of fresher faces asked for photographs. He accommodated all politely, dutifully, and in the case of a few remembered faces, warmly.
For us, there was fresh talk that the U.K.’s Channel 4 might take a chance on the CIA project if we could further enhance the role of British Intelligence in the narrative. The problem was that postwar Berlin, which featured heavily in our pilot, had been done to death already at the Le Carre-saturated BBC.
“Until we figure out how to do this without leaning on the Berlin station part of the story, all the Brits are going to be leery,” I explained.
He took that in and relayed his own status. He was bone weary at the moment, but nonetheless, he was going to re-up with CNN and continue wandering and eating and telling stories for at least another few years.
“Are you getting tired?”
“I am. But I don’t know that I can stop. I can’t sit still. I know this.”
Then he talked about the ongoing battles with Harvey Weinstein, about his girlfriend and her public stand, about the cost of it and his pride in her. His tone was of someone who had been through a grinder, but who was now certain that Weinstein and all of his lawyers and private investigators and threats would be vanquished.
“Asia,” he said of his girlfriend, “is incredible.”
We had one too many. I was ready to sleep. We stood in the cold on Park Avenue South a little while longer, then hugged, which always seemed a ridiculous gesture with Bourdain, whose height made you feel as though you were embracing a cathedral. He was flying somewhere absurd in the morning. He still had to pack.
“Travel safe,” I said, which sounded dumb even as I said it. Yup. Me, waving away Tony fucking Bourdain with a platitude about how to travel.
The next day, of course, I would get on Twitter to tease him, to brag about drinking Tony Bourdain under the table at one of his own haunts. He would reply and concede defeat, but we both knew it was a lie. By then, I had swallowed two Tylenol and three Advil and I was drinking straight Coca-Cola for breakfast. Meanwhile there was already an email waiting for me in my inbox:
“Been thinking about the Berlin problem. Might consider other crucibles of the Cold War with great character inspirations:
Vint Laurence and Tony Po in Laos.
John Stockwell in Angola.
Operation JM/Wave in Miami.
Howard Hunt and David Atlee Phillips in Guatemala Arbenz campaign.
Lucien Conein in pre-war Vietnam.
Yuri Nosenko in custody.
I read that and wondered how the fuck how. Motherfucker was as drunk as I was, and between all the travel and the Weinstein battle, so much more tired. Yet he was already in the air somewhere – I couldn’t even remember what he had told me – heading to some other godforsaken time zone. Now, today, it’s tempting for me to seize on the drinking and the weariness and the offhand remark that he couldn’t stop making those journeys and extrapolate some portentious meaning. But I know that I’d be lying to myself and grafting insight on a moment only in retrospect. No, I went to work that next day hungover but sated with smart talk, good drink, savage jokes, the hug goodbye, and the memory of my friend crossing the avenue, heading for the subway, then disappearing down the hole.
* * *
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Beautiful post and tribute. Couldn’t have been worded better.
Never ‘met’ him.
Can’t explain how deeply painful it is for me to read your words and imagine the never-ending, excruciating loss that you will carry for the remainder of your life.
Just know that someone you will likely never meet grieves not only for the loss of Anthony Bourdain, but for your loss of him.
Never before have I felt such sadness at the death of someone I didn’t really know. Tony’s gift is that he made me feel that I knew him, and that he knew me.
Perhaps the empathy that he so genuinely displayed was a curse from which he could not escape. Perhaps the pain and misery and misfortune that he witnessed over the years piled up inside of him, some of it pain that he himself had caused, and finally became too much to carry.
The void left by his loss can never be filled by his words, written or spoken though I am much richer by having read them and heard them. In time the bitterness will fade and his smile and spirit will again nourish my soul.
Thank you David for your poignant remembrance.
It’s all a bit crazy. Tragic. Many have said that Anthony Bourdain was my doppelgänger… a lot of the same mannerisms… although I’m nowhere close to his level of intelligence. Incredible human. I always felt like I was watching myself on TV and it was a little uncomfortable… I’m not going to lie. I would have loved to have met him. Thank you David for a great read with an incredibly sad ending.
Damned fine post, David. Worthy of two reads–the second one, to savor. Aside from being a fan of Bourdain, I related on another level having cast Tom Wolfe for all the above reasons when I was showrunning Cosby on CBS. Thanks for deepening our understanding of him on a level we wouldn’t otherwise get.
This was a beautiful tribute, until I read “And indeed, it’s hard to argue against the idea that the portion of our republic that hasn’t ventured abroad is the deadweight now dragging us into national mediocrity, insisting that all points of the compass save ours lack basic liberties, or don’t exalt human values, or don’t eat, drink, cure the sick, proscribe violence or educate fools with greater efficacy than we do in this fading realm.”
In this society, in this situation, capitalism is my loudest voice. I will actively avoid consuming your creative product, in any form. That portion of this republic might not travel outside of the country, but it DOES contributes to your financial gain, and you have bitten a hand that feeds you.
Oh shit. I’ll alert the marketing department. What a tragic miscalculation for HBO.
FWIW, I think that paragraph is spot on.
joannie dear, you really need to get out of yourself, not just out of this country! mind you, one does not have to leave this country to get what anthony was all about but you obviously don’t get it.
Seemingly every insurmountable obstacle of hate: race, religion, gender, or war was solvable over a bowl of pho or a plate of tacos.
He took up Ju Jitsu, and at 60 was lean and defined. Book publishers and publicists, agents and advertisers saw him as the perfect imperfect. He was the star of CNN but somehow his own man.
And then at 61, like Hemingway, Bourdain did as Hemingway did and killed himself.
In those last five minutes of his life, alone, near the toilet, Bourdain murdered Bourdain, a dastardly tragic, unjust, undeserved death; and a malevolent attack on the entire human race who was joined to him in an unofficial, but widely accepted compact of love and mutual understanding.
His suicide robbed us of that satisfaction that there is greater meaning to life, to grow to understand by venturing out into the unknown.
Now we are back to nihilism, that nothingness of despair, that poison of philosophy whose only known antidote is survival, carrying on, living under any condition to stay alive, confronting the urge to end it all by persisting to the very end.
Thank you for the beautifully written tribute and for the small glimpse in what it meant to really know Anthony Bourdain. What a guy!
It’s hard to lose such an important voice amid all the unimportant voices that continue to merely shout.
David, what a beautiful and inspiring tribute. I love the story of how you met and you nailed it with saying he seemed like an old friend on first meeting, that even came across the screen and and was part of the magic of his work. One of the great things about his shows and Treme & your stories is that they lift the up the joy, pain, and dignity of the daily struggles of common folks doing work…which is what makes his death so damn sad. We lost a big chief, a tzadik nistar, a magnificent bastard and beautiful soul. Keep working to get the green light for the CIA project, AB would be pissed if you didn’t. Thanks for sharing and keep fighting the good fight. I’m in the middle of “Sunburn”, …no relation to Polly, but please tell the author it’s excellent.
Superb tribute. You both are lucky to have shared such a friendship. When people reach your level of achievement (and celebrity), the spawn of lickspitlle and toady must be extraordinary. I get the feeling from reading both your and Tony’s work that you are always open to becoming friends with anyone at all. Like minds instead of like incomes. I appreciate that you veer from the speculation that is coloring other articles I’ve read about Tony.
I certainly hope you’re able to get your CIA miniseries greenlit. The agency’s core achievement is spinning failure so it looks like success, which may prove to America’s chief ability as well.
A friend of mine just sent this to me – your absolutely beautiful tribute which I read voraciously weeping all over again. I did not know Anthony Bourdain personally as in “real life” but I have been grieving as if I did. I have not experienced this depth of grief with any other celebrity’s passing. I watched everything, read everything, and I wanted him to be happy. I saw the depth of life’s wisdom and sadness in his eyes and on his weathered face. And then in a split second he’d burst into laughter talking with someone over a cold beer and I’d fall just a little more in love with him.
My heart goes out to his family and beloved global community. Thank you for writing this and for all your work. I wish you comfort. You were blessed to be his friend and I send you my deepest condolences.
I met you briefly at a memorial service for Connie Knox. I had traveled from Raleigh, NC, to the Washington/Baltimore area for the service. We were discussing Connie and journalism and unions when a fan interrupted us to tell you how much she liked your work. You walked off — understandably — and we never finished our discussion. I’ve always regretted that. Now your column about deciding that you were going to talk with Tony has reminded me of our aborted conversation.
Your piece is a lovely tribute to a good friend. May we all be remembered as kindly.
[…] places and stories. The writer and creator of The Wire, David Simon, wrote a tribute to Bourdain, describing his incredible wit, but also his “almost unlimited capacity for empathy, for feeling the lives and loves and hopes of […]
Thank you so much for this beautiful post about this absolutely remarkable soul.
I am 43 years old, I am a grown up and I d like to think that I am reasonable grown-up but it’s been a week and I still can’t help crying thinking of him.
The only thing I can do now to lower this pain is eating. Travelling. Drinking for sure. Discovering new horizons should they be very far away or just in my neighborhood, and trying as much as possible to bring kindness to the others.
Sir, your son encapsulated Mr. Bourdain perfectly; most likely the coolest guy on the planet! We all hurt, and will for quite some time. God Bless You TB.
[…] “He remains, for many of us, the American that we wish ourselves to be in the world’s sight. To have him widely displayed as our countryman, open to and caring about the rest of the world, and being so amid our current political degradation — this was ever more important and heroic. To lose him now, amid so many fear-mongering, xenophobic tantrums by those engaged in our misrule, is hideous and grievous.” – David Simon, “The Audacity of Despair – June 11 entry in his blog (read the entire entry) […]
Thank-you very, very much for this reflection.
When Tom Petty died it hit me like a tonne of bricks. I was taken aback by the depth of my sadness and the conclusion I came to at the time was that artists like Petty become like family members; who live in your house, whisper in your ear and come to inhabit your heart. Anthony Bourdain was no different. I am shattered by his death.
The thing I appreciate most about your tribute is this: for the many of us who admired Anthony from afar we have this image of him as someone who was more compassionate, and well read, and witty than the rest of us….that much was evident from his books and television show. What this piece shows is that he was even wittier, and funnier, and smarter than all of us imagined. I didn’t even think that was possible. It makes me love and miss him even more than before.
I just can’t think of anther human being who combined his charm, his curiosity, the timbre of that voice, the interest in storytelling and cinematography, that prose that sparkled like almost nothing I had read before and perhaps most importantly how he treated EVERYONE the same. I am truly sorry that a terrible pain ran alongside those gifts. I can only hope that it was an irregular guest.
I am also touched by how much you admired one another. You were clearly in awe of him, as he was of you. He told Matt Shedd on the Stories That Matter podcast that as soon as he got off his first phone call with you he called his agent and said: ‘just say yes to whatever David asks….and don’t even mention money.’
To me he was the greatest living embodiment of what it means to be curious, and the power of empathy and humility in understanding what is foreign.
I pass on my most heartfelt condolences to you and your family, Simon, and to all of Anthony’s friends and family, and Asia. To have known and been touched by him in the way you were this must be the most devastating of losses.
Anthony, you were a great gift to the world and we stand today in your honor.
WOW and thanks for sharing! My daughter met Anthony at a meet and greet after one of his talks. She has a pic with Anthony and a signed “Happy Birthday, Jordan, framed in her house as well as one in my house.
Anthony was my daughter’s idol and it hurts me so much to see her hurting so much over this loss!
You will be so missed and there will never, ever be another like you! Peace be with you Anthony and may you find content in your new “unknown”!
This was a truly amazing read and tribute. It makes me realize that he was even more of a humanitarian and unique person than I already assumed him to be.
I always took it for granted I would meet Tony, I already narrowly missed him twice in my hometown where he often visited. I would have like to thank him for the indescribable moments of enjoyment some of his shows had brought me, especially a couple of the No Reservations ones that hit that sweet spot where fond childhood or other relatable buried memories bubbled up. I loved the easy way he broke bread with all kinds of people in all manner of scenarios, the clever cultural references, odes to cinema and pop culture that often popped up in the shows, funny running jokes, failed fishing trips with the obligatory stunt fish, Samir, and their dysfunctional relationship and on and on.
Luckily he left a treasure trove behind for fans, books that can be re-read or even newly discovered. Lots of episodes to rewatch when the mood strikes. I will also renew my HBO subscription to rewatch Treme now. I have had No Reservations streaming almost non stop since Friday as I was homebound with a back injury. In a way a perfect way to say goodbye to the only one I could ever think of when people asked: “If you could have dinner with a celebrity who would it be?” Well Tony of course!
One brilliant raconteur eulogizing another brilliant raconteur. So poignant, so honest.
I am so very sorry for your loss Mr. Simon. May Tony Bourdain rest in eternal peace and may you live a very long and healthy life.
Thank you for this. I lived in New Orleans for a dozen years hanging with the line cooks, wait staff and bartenders and Tony nailed his writing for Treme in perfect cadence. From the love of the food to the loathe of everything that took away from that.
I’m still very much lost with his death and I hope to see my way clear one day. This helps.
I remember when he went to San Sebastian!! It was a wonderful show, and amongst friends, he looked relaxed and happy! In planning for my retirement, I envisioned living my life as he did! I will miss him, but hope he is at peace! His legacy will live in our hearts and minds forever!
Well said, David. That’s the good stuff. That’s what we’re all trying to come to grips with missing out on. Thanks for sharing this.
I have felt numb in the days since Bourdain’s passing. It still feels like a bad dream. It is an incredible testament to the man that so many of us, from different backgrounds and walks of life, could feel so much someone we’ve never actually met. His genuine warmth, honesty and empathetic soul impacted so many lives.
I think that Kasturi (above) said it eloquently: “You have to be a humanist of the most honest kind to feel one with the world.” He was indeed a shining example of the humanity and we are all better for having shared in his knowledge and grace. The void is great. How unbearable it must be for those who truly had the opportunity to know and love him. My heart breaks for them as well.
Thanks, David, for the A.B. article, and thanks for The Corner. That’s humanity.
That was beautifully written, sir, thank you. Like so many out there, I have mourned this loss and felt such deep sadness over a man I never even got the privilege to meet. There is no question that the world is worse off without Anthony Bourdain in it. At least we were all fortunate enough to have been here during his exceptional life and lived vicariously through his experiences. Hopefully we can all extend his legacy by living out his message: move and travel, share and experience, listen and learn, treat each other with kindness, dignity and respect. To your point, the world needs these things now perhaps more than ever.
Thank you, David. Beautifully written. I, too, for years on end, thought I was destined to be friends with Anthony Bourdain. He had the gift of bringing you in close wherever he traveled. He was like one of the cool, bad boys you’re supposed to outgrow after a certain age. But he was the exception, his intelligence and warmth drew you in each and every time. You wanted him to be your guide ( and delusions aside, your friend) for life. His ability to see each and every person for who they were, regardless of their station in life, was so damn attractive. I was drawn to him as were millions of others, truly across every conceivable divide. You would hope this depth of love would be enough to sustain someone even in moments of despair. But I can’t hypothesize why he left. Yes, it feels way too soon. But the timing was all his. I am grateful for everything he gave, he nourished our souls.
Dear Mr. Simon,
Thank you very much for this moving and eloquent tribute. I’ve admired your work as much as I admired Anthony Bourdain’s, so it was great to be reminded that he worked on the wonderful Treme series with you.
Pat Sullivan, Vancouver
David, that scene in Uruguay is precisely the one I’ve always summoned in my mind’s eye every time I think of Tony Bourdain, right down to the details you mention.
Thank you for this remembrance. Bourdain meant so much to so many – each tribute offers a little bit (or a lot) more about him and his life story, and each is profoundly moving. I have great admiration for him, as I do for you. Glad to see your friendship and writerly relationship has so strongly influenced you. He will live on.
It was Uruguay then. Montevideo. I thought so, but I couldn’t be sure. I watched so many that weekend.
Just thank you.
This was beautiful. Thank you for sharing. I come from obscurity and as such never knew Anthony on a personal level, but I *felt like* I knew him through his shows and through my own experience living abroad and meeting different people whom I felt each represented a small part of the kind of person I imagine him to have been. I can’t match your eloquence, but if you’re interested in reading it, here’s a short description of Anthony’s effect on me: smilebreathegoslowly.com/2018/06/12/the-lessons-of-anthony-bourdain/
David, You summed him up well. Interviewed him a few times and was struck by his wide ranging intelligence. This was a guy who knew much more than how to make a roux.Those kitchen scenes in Treme were exceptionally insightful from the details to the dialog. Two other memories: He said he was embarassed that ,as he wrote in Kitchen Confidential, he couldn’t find drugs in Baltimore and so hopped a train to New York to get his stuff. Baltimore, he later noted, has no shortage of drug dealers. Secondly, his mother was a copy editor at The NY Times, but he said he never let his mom read his work. Quite a writer. Rob Kasper
I always wanted to meet him. Thank you Mr. Simon for making me feel like I did.
This loss shook us all.
I watched the film “Missing” last night for the first time in about thirty years last night. It occurred to me that we live in a world that is now without Bourdain and still has a criminal like Kissinger showing up at the White House. 2018 is tragic. Thanks for the essay.
A better eulogy was never written. Sorry for your loss.
Thanks for this. Really enjoyed living your memory of Tony. Damn this all feels like a bad dream…
Thank you for this, David.
One thing I find myself asking a lot is : Why?
I note you haven’t bothered to touch on that, and probably for good reason, but is it bad to speculate, or a futile task?
I wonder what was going through Tony’s head in the moments before his death. What are the mechanics involved in a hanging suicide? Had he researched it before? Did he put the belt on, test it, a little tight, not too loose. Where do I do this? Bathroom seems ok. What about the knot, make sure that’s in the right place, want this to be quick.
I can’t make sense of it all, and grasping. I guess we’ll never know. I am totally bummed out by this whole thing.
One thing I don’t buy into is the easy idea he was mentally ill. Again, I just think of the terrific amount of pain he must have been going through in those moments to make his life untenable.
I hate this. I hate myself. I’m over it. I want it to be over.
Or maybe it was, I’ve had a great life, now it’s time to call and end to this.
I remember somewhere he said suicide was a failure of imagination. I find that one hard to buy from somebody like Bourdain.
I dunno. Thoughts please.
I don’t want to speak to that. I can’t fathom and I don’t want to speculate.
[…] Simon’s full essay is available to read at davidsimon.com. […]
Thank you David. I can not believe how down I have felt since Tony’s passing, and that a part of life’s cool view point has been extinguished. Then I realize how you must feel at the loss of your friend. I’m sorry for your loss.
When describing his work to friends, I would always say he is Hemingway and Hunter Thompson tied up in butchers string.
I’m glad we still have you.
I came back from a 3 day camping trip to learn that Anthony Bourdain had passed and that the news cycle had already moved on to other events. It felt like being sucker-punched.
Thank you so much for sharing this. I don’t think I’m alone in feeling like I lost an old friend, even though I never met him. Your story made my heart feel a little bit lighter.
We will miss you. What do we have in common? Seemingly different worlds.I am a 72 yrs old g.mother in india who is a vegetarian, who have nothing to do with pork or lamb or anything which walks on the table and kitchen, but why did i cry so much when i read that you took your own life? That empathy and understanding in an American is rare. you have to be a humanist of the most honest kind to feel one with the world. A rare thing in todays divisive world. Never to snigger about humble folks and their honest food is the rarest of rare quality. If only you knew so many people genuinely adored you and thought you were the shining example of the human race could you have changed your mind?
The void will be great, we will miss you if only for your selfdeprecating humour and warmth which came across the screen so honestly.
I think you captured what many of us are feeling quite eloquently. Thank you for sharing.
Why is it in all of these we need to slam Americans? It isn’t that rare, but thanks. We’ll just go crawl back into our holes over here since we are all so worthless.
Oh Kasturi, I thought I had finally run out of tears over this but you have me crying again. I think he would be touched that he brought you joy. I know I am
Thank you for sharing this with us. I never met him but was lucky enough to catch his visit to San Jose in 2016. It was spellbinding. He was brilliant and brooding and witty and tortured and he made you feel as if he was talking directly to you. I rarely cry when a celebrity passes. I feel sadness for their death but never cry. When he passed, I cried. There was something about him that made you feel like you knew him personally even though you didn’t. Since he died I have felt unsettled, as if something from my own life is missing. It’s weird to feel that way about someone I never met. But, he was a profound man who left a lasting mark on me and many others and that mark made all of us better citizens of the world. I am grateful that I was fortunate enough to go along with him on his travels to parts unknown.
I feel the same way. I never cry when a celebrity dies, but I’ve found myself crying on multiple occasions since Bourdain passed. I haven’t felt right since, been unable to concentrate on my work, find myself drifting off and searching online for tributes like this. He was one of a kind. I feel as if a chapter of my life has closed with his passing.
As Elvis once said, “An image is one thing, a human being is another.” At some point it must have become a burden to go on being him. I saw him in person when he gave his on-the-road presentation about four years ago. I only went to take my daughter but I had come over time to appreciate his humor. When he walked out, I thought, “He looks so happy. I wonder if I’d be that happy if I had that kind of success.” He said he was married to some martial arts fanatic and I felt my antenna go up. Could two such egos remain happy together? Apparently not. She divorced him. I have no doubt that’s when the darkness began. As Ray Charles once sang, “No peace do I find.” What a waste. What an unfathomable tragedy. Bourdain, you maniac, you were loved. You just couldn’t feel it.
Exquisite tribute. May your memories of Tony Bourdain sustain you through your grief and loss. He was a unique human being who had a remarkable life, and profoundly influenced and touched many of us. Perhaps he continues to travel. On the other side, beyond. Whatever, wherever that may be. It’s a comforting thought. I imagine he’d have brilliant insights and elegant descriptions. Of what remains – his legacy, his work and words – I think they will continue to influence future generations of travelers, writers, chefs, entrepreneurs, activists, fragile human beings.
The best tribute I have read to the inimitable M. Bourdain. You were so fucking lucky to have known him. I always hoped I’d run into him somewhere; maybe at the next place, no?
Thanks for a good cry. I really needed that.
Mr. Simon – It is very generous of you to share with us your instructive and moving eulogy for you good friend. My condolences and thanks.
Boy did Anthony tell it like it was. To tell you the truth I am scared , scared of losing a person who meant a lot. Didn’t know him personally but watching him on CNN, Travel Channel, You Tube, etc, , to me he was the Johnny Carson of the food and travel Ringling Bros Circus channel. Witty, humorous, caring from the heart, you got it all from AB. What do I do now?? My anxiety is up and it feels like I just lost a family member. Oh God please bring him back as he was larger than life. He’s the cool dude you look up too. Unfortunately he’s not coming back. So for me personally I am done mourning Anthony, I am going to celebrate his life. He was someone I could hold onto during his extraordinary on the seat of my pants episodes. Boy does my heart hurt, but here’s a toast to you Anthony, you’ll be in my heart forever.