The “rock-star” celebrity chef and CNN host Anthony Bourdain has died after committing suicide at the age of 61, the network has confirmed.
In its shock announcement early Friday morning, CNN described the TV personality as a “gifted storyteller” whose shows such as the Peabody Award-winning Parts Unknown took viewers on culinary adventures around the world.
“It is with extraordinary sadness we can confirm the death of our friend and colleague Anthony Bourdain,” CNN said in a statement.
“His love of great adventure, new friends, fine food and drink and the remarkable stories of the world made him a unique storyteller. His talents never ceased to amaze us and we will miss him very much. Our thoughts and prayers are with his daughter and family at this incredibly difficult time.”
The network confirmed that Bourdain was in France working on an upcoming episode of his CNN series when his close friend, French chef Eric Ripert, found him unresponsive in his hotel room Friday morning.
“Anthony was my best friend. An exceptional human being, so inspiring & generous,” Ripert wrote on Twitter. “One of the great storytellers who connected w so many. I pray he is at peace from the bottom of my heart. My love & prayers are also w his family, friends and loved ones.”
Bourdain’s partner Asia Argento wrote: “Anthony gave all of himself in everything that he did. His brilliant, fearless spirit touched and inspired so many, and his generosity knew no bounds. He was my love, my rock, my protector. I am beyond devastated. My thoughts are with his family. I would ask that you respect their privacy and mine.”
Paula Froelich, a travel journalist who dated Anthony Bourdain, told The Daily Beast: “He was a great guy. A great guy. I last saw him a year ago. He was a wonderful human being.”
After that brief interview, Froelich wrote on Twitter: “Here’s the thing about depression: it’s a sneaky little, sticky bitch. You can be rich as hell, totally successful but still lonely AF... But take heart in knowing: only the best, funniest, loveliest, most empathetic, wonderful, talented people have depression. You’re in a good crowd.”
In 2013, Peabody Award judges honored the Parts Unknown series for “expanding our palates and horizons in equal measure.” The 11th season of the show premiered just last month.
The judges said of Bourdain and at the time: “He’s irreverent, honest, curious, never condescending, never obsequious. People open up to him and, in doing so, often reveal more about their hometowns or homelands than a traditional reporter could hope to document.”
While accepting the award five years ago, Bourdain described how he approached his work: “We ask very simple questions: What makes you happy? What do you eat? What do you like to cook? And everywhere in the world we go and ask these very simple questions and we tend to get some really astonishing answers.”
In an interview with The Daily Beast this year, Bourdain reflected on a remarkable career in the public eye that spanned more than three decades. He said his celebrated show has grown in ambition over the years. “It was never really about food,” he said.
He explained to Marlow Stern that his focus began to shift from the culinary to the cultural in July 2006, when the filmmaker and his crew were evacuated from Beirut during the 34-day Second Lebanon War. The show that told that story was nominated for an Emmy, and Bourdain’s horizons grew.
“I like food. It was the center of my life for 30 years and I’ll always look at the world through that prism, but it is not the only thing,” Bourdain said.
“If you’re commenting on how crunchy-delicious your salad is while your host is missing two limbs, you might want to ask them how that happened, and often you will get a story that’s far more interesting than what’s on your plate.”
Bourdain made his name with a 1999 New Yorker article, “Don’t Eat Before Reading This,” that grew into a best-selling book in 2000, Kitchen Confidential: Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly.
In the preface of the book he wrote of Ripert, who discovered his body Friday: “There were many moments of real irony and wonder: one day, in my kitchen at Les Halles, the phone rang and some French guy was talking to me, inviting me up to his restaurant to meet, chat, have a little lunch.
“‘Who is this’ I inquired. ‘It’s Eric Ripert,’ the voice said. My knees turned to custard. This was like...like...Joe DiMaggio calling up to say, ‘Let’s throw the ball around the backyard together, sport.’”
Bourdain’s acclaimed writing led to his first TV work, hosting A Cook’s Tour on the Food Network from 2002, then No Reservations on the Travel Channel in 2005-12.
Parts Unknown began in 2013 and one episode famously featured him sharing grilled pork patties with President Barack Obama in Vietnam in 2016. Bourdain later wrote: “[Obama] seemed to enjoy himself sitting on a low plastic stool eating noodles and pork bits with chopsticks.”
Tributes have flooded in for the much-loved TV personality. Renowned British restaurant critic Jay Rayner: “Terrible news about Tony Bourdain. He was a brilliant man, who singlehandedly changed what food writing could be.”
New York Times TV critic James Poniewozik tweeted: “The thing I loved about Anthony Bourdain’s shows is that the food was just part of the bigger project of learning about the world. So sad to see him leave it.”
Fellow celebrity chef Gordon Ramsay said: “Stunned and saddened by the loss of Anthony Bourdain. He brought the world into our homes and inspired so many people to explore cultures and cities through their food.”
Film director Darren Aronofsky, who traveled with Bourdain for several episodes of Parts Unknown, said in a statement: “Devastated. I don’t feel much else. Tony was a loyal friend and an inspiration. Always sensitive, always connected, always inquisitive, always fun. We had great times exploring Madagascar and Bhutan together. I will never forget his spirit, his conviction, his professionalism, his passion, his love for his daughter, his love for Asia and her kids, his vision, his stories, his drive for justice, and his wicked sense of humor. Thank you Tony.”
In 2013, Bourdain shot an episode of No Reservations in Detroit with local journalist Charlie LeDuff. The original plan was for them to meet at a pop-up restaurant in downtown, LeDuff said, but Bourdain soon diverted course to a resident's own pop-up restaurant—on her lawn.
“He cared about regular people,” LeDuff told The Daily Beast. “He went to the hood. Ate a woman’s greens and BBQ on her own lawn. He wasn't just a guy who went to the sleek and elite places. That speaks to everything about Anthony Bourdain.”
After they finished touring Detroit, they went to LeDuff’s house to meet his wife and proceeded to drink until dawn.
“He was elegant, he was kind, he was a dude. Charming. That’s the kind of guy he was,” LeDuff continued. “We all have to go. Some of have to go in a hard way. I’m shocked like everyone else, he had everything going. I don't know why. It’s just sad.”
“Even the world’s most interesting man hurt.”
—Justin Miller contributed reporting.
If you are having thoughts of suicide, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 (TALK). The line is available 24/7 and provides free and confidential support.