In the days and weeks to come, there will be endless words poured out to remember Anthony Bourdain. He’ll be eulogized with phrases like “bad boy chef,” “travel god,” and “raconteur” — all meant to neatly sum up the work of a man who lived life on an incredibly large scale. Writers, TV hosts, and friends will do their best to distill his essence, a tough task that’s only made more difficult when attempted by those overwhelmed with grief. All of these reflections will wind their way to the same conclusion, the largest conclusion possible: The man lived.
That is, perhaps, the best compliment that can be given to Anthony Bourdain. He roared through life like a wildfire. He crackled with wit. He burnt with passion — hot and loud and untameable — for food, for travel, for culture, for… existence — in all its complicated messiness. Across the various incarnations of his TV shows, in his books, and in scores of interviews and public appearances, the message was always: “There’s so much living to do; so much world to see!” And that overarching theme (which can easily slip into the realm of pop-psych platitudes) had teeth, thanks to the man delivering it.
Bourdain was always achingly real with us, blatantly imperfect, and terribly clear-sighted about his successes and his failures. As a result, we trusted his message. Yes, we loved him as our adventurous avatar — eating pig anuses one day and sharing soup with the president of the United States the next — but we also loved him as our life coach. His voice sliced through to the news cycle to remind us not to let our biases keep us from genuine connection. We gladly followed him into the unknown, not in spite of his flaws but because of them. They were all fragments of a big-hearted man — one who’d overcome well-documented troubles and risen to fame in his 40s by letting his insatiable curiosity get the better of him.
We knew Tony, we were sure of it, and the greatest way we could thank him for his stories was by never trying to tame him.
As a travel writer, it’s impossible to ignore the impact and influence of Anthony Bourdain. Early in my career, when I created an interview series called “How I Travel” for BootsNAll, he granted us a conversation between shoots — instantly legitimizing a column which had struggled to score premier names. When I arrived at UPROXX, he gave us an interview before the season six premiere of Parts Unknown, jumpstarting our visibility in the world of food and travel. In airports, hostels, and restaurants, almost every time I spoke about being a travel and food journalist I’d invariably hear, “Like Anthony Bourdain?” to which the only reasonable response was, “Well, sort of… but less successful.”
“I just love him,” people always seemed so eager to tell me. “Isn’t he the best?”
They said this — and I have literally hundreds of memories to pull from here — with their eyes sparkling. As if speaking about a mutual friend; someone we alone shared the special joy of knowing, not an internationally renowned celebrity. In the travel community, Bourdain was ours. A man famous for living everyone’s dream, vagabonding around the world eating and drinking, and making it all feel so deeply enriching.