Tony Bourdain died and there’s no silver lining or lesson to learn or pithy takeaway from it. Just, for me and I’m sure the thousands of people who knew him personally and the millions of other people who saw him on television, a tremendous amount of sadness that turns this sunny New York day somber.
I first came into contact with Tony in 2007, when I was an editor at Gridskipper, Gawker’s defunct travel website. We had sold a bunch of pre- and post-roll ads for his Travel Channel show, No Reservations, attached to a silly video series of neighborhood guides I hosted. After the first one went live, I got an email from a strange AOL address. It was Tony, saying he’d enjoyed them. Anthony Motherfucking Bourdain emailed me and signed his name “Tony.” I was in heaven. I’ve received and sent hundreds of thousands of emails since then. That one sticks forever in my inbox. There was no reason for him to send it except that, as everyone knows, what Tony thinks he says.
Evidently not. Over the years, I’ve interviewed Tony a handful of times, run into him at events and parties and whatnot. We weren’t friends, but we were friendly, and in ways big and small he always offered a helping hand. A single tweet from Bourdain could — and did — make a huge difference professionally. But more than that, to me, Tony was this towering, loping beacon in whose wake I could trail. Through his television shows and books and the never-depleted feast of often profane, often profound sound bites he proffered, he made the transition from talking about food to talking about people, about what we eat to who we are. From the time I was first introduced to the angry bad boy in Kitchen Confidential, I watched as Tony became a father and an athlete, digging into his insatiable curiosity to find a deeply human and humane heart. There was still anger there, but it turned into the sharp sword of righteous outrage. He didn’t take bullshit, called it as he saw it, and, because he never stopped traveling, saw a lot of the world, the good and the bad. The last time I saw Tony, his cookbook Appetites, about cooking at home with his family, had just come out.
When we spoke, Tony was talking about the joy of cooking for his family, how he wanted to make things ahead of time and things that were easy. “You want to be at your own party,” he said. I stood in awe of how effortlessly, or rather fearlessly, he had shed the chrysalis of anger and emerged as something new, someone healthier. But, I suppose we know now, he kept some parts unknown, too.
Death is coming fast and heavy now, I fear. I can’t help but lasso together the loss of Tony and that of Kate Spade, just a few days ago. I hope I’m not out of line to suppose that Tony probably wouldn’t have had many nice words to say about the chirpy, cheery world created by Kate Spade. It was so antithetical to his rough rock ’n’ roll personality. But if he had known Kate, glimpsed just a bit of the back alleys of her mind, he would have been kind to her, because Tony was kind, and because Tony had them too. To me, they’re together in the bardo, and my heart breaks for them that they felt so hopeless that they took their own lives. I pray for Kate and I pray for Tony, that somehow I can decrease their suffering wherever they are. But I don’t think Tony would want sacred thoughts or noble feelings. So I offer instead a very Bourdainian prayer:
Fuck. Fuck. Fuck. Fuck. Fuck. Fuck. Fuck. Fuck. Love. Love. Love. But fuck.
If you or someone you know might be at risk for suicide, call the Suicidal Prevention Hotline at 1-800-273-8255. It provides free and confidential support 24 hours a day, seven days a week, for people in suicidal crisis or distress. Those who feel less comfortable speaking on the phone can text HOME to 741741 in the United States to reach the Crisis Text Hotline. For crisis support in Spanish, call 1-888-628-9454.
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