The Essential Life Lesson We Can Learn From Anthony Bourdain and ‘Parts Unknown’
The TV personality, chef, and Kitchen Confidential author showed us how to lead a fearless life.
PHOTO CREDIT: Getty Images
Anthony Bourdain is dead at 61, of an apparent suicide, while in France filming the next episode of Parts Unknown. Bourdain was already a TV star and bestselling author when he launched his latest series, but it won accolades, and award after award for the fascinating way it brought unknown and possibly scary places, from the Congo River in Africa to Antarctica to the broken-down neighborhoods of Detroit.
Bourdain once described the show as asking different people around the world some very simple questions: "What makes you happy? What do you eat? What do you like to cook?" Finding the answers to those questions resulted in an equally simple message: Don't be afraid. Just because a place is remote and completely unlike anyplace you know, just because the people there look different and have different beliefs and everyday lives from you, just because someplace or someone is completely unfamiliar--don't be afraid. Instead, be curious. Learn more. Take a bite.
To my husband, for whom Bourdain was a beloved figure, who usually leaves Parts Unknown streaming on Netflix from one episode to the next as he prepares meals for us, this fearlessness was Bourdain's biggest gift to us all. "If I was going to go to Ecuador or someplace I wouldn't be as afraid because of him," he says.
And indeed, from the book that launched him into stardom right through Parts Unknown, fearlessness was the one thing you could always count on from Bourdain. When he flipped over an ATV and had it roll over him during an episode of No Reservations, or when he went to Lebanon but brought along the wound-stopping product Quick Clot at the insistence of the U.S. military, he was perhaps annoyed or embarrassed, but--at least outwardly--he was never afraid.
Look at any image of Bourdain you can find. He's nearly always standing or sitting square to the camera, looking it (and you) right in the eye, chin up, his expression a combination of an ironic smile and a challenge. The shot that you always see, again and again, in every one of his shows is Tony walking, through some burned-out war zone or lavishly wealthy neighborhood, ambling confidently along, unhurried but unhesitating, shoulders back. The man had incredibly good posture. If anything ever intimidated him, most of us will never know what it was.
That's the other lesson from the life and untimely death of Anthony Bourdain. However much we may think we know a public figure, however authentic and truly himself he may seem in front of the camera or on the page, and however much we may love him, we can't ever truly know what's going on in someone else's mind, let alone someone we have never actually met. His friends mostly report that he seemed happier than he had in a long time.
But his fellow globe-trotting TV chef and close friend Andrew Zimmern also shared a truth that many successful people know: Having your ambitions fulfilled does not necessarily lead to happiness and relaxation. It usually leads to even longer hours and greater exhaustion as you work at the thing you love, running in place to stay fresh, stay relevant, and keep getting better--and Bourdain did all those things.
Zimmern says that when he and Bourdain met up, they would talk about "wanting to get off this crazy roller coaster, but at the same time knowing that this was our work," he told The New York Times. "The world has lost a brilliant human being and I've lost one of the few people I could talk to about some of this stuff." Apparently there was a darker side to Bourdain and to the life he lived. It's an odd coincidence that Bourdain was found dead three days after designer Kate Spade took her own life, also by hanging, and two days after the Centers for Disease Control released a report showing that suicide rates in American have increased throughout this century.
CNN is collecting memories about Bourdain from anyone who cares to share them (you can do so here) and posting many of the responses on its site. Scroll through and read how many people say he inspired them to take a chance--quit a job they hated to travel the world, or write a book, or both. That's the man's best legacy and the best way to remember and honor him: by doing something you've been afraid to do or going somewhere you've been afraid to go, going somewhere you've been afraid to go--even if it's just an ethnic neighborhood in your own home town.
CNN is airing a tribute to Anthony Bourdain at 10 pm Eastern tonight and a series of his favorite Parts Unknown episodes through the weekend. Here's the schedule: