He was brash and tenacious. He was often obnoxious and nearly always a drunk. He was a brilliant writer, but in his words he was “more importantly, a reader.” He was a cocky, yet humble adventurer who was opinionated but always seemed ready to be wrong or surprised. Anthony Bourdain was not Irish but he had a gift of gab and a way with words that put him on par with many of the great Irish writers that he was inspired by. He was touched by Ireland on his first trip there and on his last he wrote “Heaven looks like this” in the guestbook at the Gravedigger pub.
Anthony Bourdain went to Ireland a lot, with and without his entourage and camera crew. Ireland captured his heart when he first visited the North, and it never let him go. In fact, it was his first visit (and resulting commentary) to Ireland that reminded me that Bourdain was more than an obnoxious celebrity chef, and I was not alone. Many considered that Irish episode to be a turning point in his career. There’s a clear difference between the earlier shows and the ones that came after his first visit to Ireland. It was one of the first moments where the host seemed to be humbled and really touched by the soul of a place and eager to learn more. This became a common theme that he replicated almost everywhere he went, but Ireland was a catalyst for that change in the show’s format.
Bourdain passed away today, leaving a daughter and a legacy of food, travel, and tolerance behind. His death is being reported as a suicide, which is a tragic but unsurprising conclusion to a life full of grit, addiction, punk rock, travel, and trouble. I loved him like I love Shane McGowan and Iggy Pop….despite the possibility that I may have to mourn them all for the choices they’ve made. That knowledge doesn’t change the way I feel about them and it doesn’t make them any less a member of my adopted tribe, whether we’ve met or not. Bourdain felt just like that to me. He was a bit of a hero – a punk rock rebel who picked himself up out of the gutter, beat the odds and found a few years of joy and celebration in the third act of his life. More power to him. We should all be so lucky. I’m sorry I never got to have a pint with him, but if he’s right and the afterlife looks like the Gravedigger pub, we’ll have a grand old time together eventually. Until then, the chef has left the kitchen.
Suicide is heartbreaking for those left behind but I firmly believe that people have the right to choose when and how they go out. However, if you are struggling with suicidal thoughts, depression or other mental issues and you need someone to talk to, please call someone. If you can’t call a friend or a loved one, call 1-800-273-TALK (US), 116-123 (IRELAND OR UK). For some, a voice on the other end is enough. I’m sorry it wasn’t for Tony.
Watch Bourdain’s premier Irish episode below.