Anthony Bourdain was a rock star. He made music with food, songs with words and created and conducted concerts over a table. His albums will continue to play on bookshelves and TV screens, but like so many stars before him, he fell from the sky, pulled himself to the ground, and left us mere mortals alone, shattered and broken, left to pick up the star dust.
I did not know Anthony Bourdain other than the way millions of people knew Anthony Bourdain.
Sadly, I had never gotten a chance to meet him. And the one memento I have, which is a personalized and signed copy of No Reservations, my friend Ty got for me.
Why then am I so deeply affected by his passing?
While I love to cook and actually work as an assistant chef sometimes, I never pursued it professionally. I did not work my way up through kitchens as a dishwasher, busboy, waiter or line cook. While I am a writer, I have yet to finish a novel and seem to be in a creative rut, with several scripts and books started yet sitting in limbo. While I am an actor, I never really went the TV host or broadcast journalism route. And yet to have a career covering all of those things would seemingly be a dream come true. To get paid to travel the world, eat and drink and meet fellow human beings seems like perfection… and yet, it wasn’t.
When John Belushi, my idol at the time, passed, essentially at his own hand, I remember being so angry, hurt and upset and completely unable to understand how someone who had everything I could have wanted in life could throw it away on drugs and fast living. He essentially killed himself with all of that. And yet, that was not enough to push me to fully pursue Belushi’s career path of Second City and SNL. I dipped my toes into those waters but never fully swam in that comic ocean. One of the biggest regrets in my life, but that is a whole other story.
When Robin Williamskilled himself I was devastated on a different level. It took a voice out of this world that was and is so needed, given all the craziness and anger and harsh feelings that surround us. Strangely I did not blame him, especially learning later that he was diagnosed with Lewy Body Disease (LBD) and dementia. He must have been afraid of the pain and afraid of being a burden. But nonetheless, it gives little credit to those left behind who “would move heaven and earth” and do whatever was necessary to care for a loved one. Being a caregiver is never easy, but it is something deeply human, and something many of us would gladly take on.
The very circle of life has us taken care of by our parents… fed, nursed, clothed, protected… only to have to turn around later in life and possibly do those very same things for our parents.
With artists there is a fear of becoming irrelevant… fading away into oblivion… and so many feel it is better to burn out in a fiery explosion…a dramatic gesture…a final act. For others, it is perhaps not believing their own press… not believing the adulation heaped on them by a hungry public… feeling, therefore, like a fraud. This seems to be the case for Anthony Bourdain in that all the love and respect he had was not enough. The love of a girlfriend and a daughter and friends was not enough. The success and battles won were not enough.
Life will give each and every one of us darkness at some point. It is the very nature of existence… the circle of a day… Sunrise, dusk, sunset. How we deal with misfortune and pain is what makes us human… what defines us. Yet for some, that external darkness enters us, literally, and once there it is so much harder to overcome.
We mask it with a smile, a laugh… we try to cover the wound with alcohol and drugs… sex and escape.
There is no escape. We are with ourselves and our thoughts 24 hours a day, seven days a week, and for as many years as we live on this earth. We can be in a crowded room, and even actively involved in conversations with others, and the thoughts of our brain are chattering away… silently on the outside, shouting in the inside… thinking of the other things we have to be doing or the places we’d rather be, or making judgments on others… and on ourselves. We are not worthy. This person is so much better than me, and on and on.
With Bourdain, I will never forget the shock of hearing the news. I woke up, as I have done a lot lately, way before my alarm goes off. And I, by almost second nature now, begin the day by turning on the news and placing a pillow over my eyes as a way of creating a dark space. Sometimes I fall back asleep. Sometimes I just linger in that place in between. I suppose it is a way of avoiding starting the day. While I want to be informed and know what is going on, it has become a terrible way to start the day… So the TV becomes white noise that I only partially pay attention to.
It is a companion, another voice in an otherwise empty room… empty bed. That voice might otherwise be another person. But when it is not, we turn to the TV or radio or music to fill the space that would normally be filled by someone else. It is important to remember that being alone is not the same as being lonely. Keeping track of when that shifts is important.
When they announced that he was dead, I jolted up and threw the pillow off my forehead. And for the next several days I would be confused and emotional and sad and angry. The thing about Anthony Bourdain I suppose, that hurt me the most, was that he was the very combination of things that are very near and dear to me. Things that I SORT OF am… but so many things I wish I fully was… a chef, a traveller, an on-screen personality, a writer, and not just about food, but about culture and human beings. He was a truth seeker, a thrill seeker, he was eternally curious… All things that normally would keep a person locked onto this earth, this planet… and yet somehow the pain and darkness and depression took over all of that. Clearly there were parts unknown to us… strangers in front of TV screens, yes… but also, apparently to friends and family.
So where do we find hope? Come back tomorrow… we’ll talk through this together… but if you need help now…REACH OUT!
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (USA)