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 flat out 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 experiencing beauty. We followed him into the unknown — not in spite of his flaws, but because of them. They were all pieces 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 never trying to tame him.