Today would have been Anthony Bourdain’s birthday. I woke up this morning to find my Twitter feed replete with memories, tributes, and messages about his life and memory. In June 2018, Bourdain was found dead of an apparent suicide by hanging while filming for his TV show Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown.
If you don’t know much about Bourdain, his life, and the messages about, well, everything that he used food to convey, I’d recommend reading Drew Magary’s obituary from GQ and his subsequent profile from later in 2018 that is a collection of stories and memories from Bourdain’s friends.
“It is that life, more than his work,” wrote Magary about Bourdain, “that millions of people (myself included) seek to emulate: a life that is hungry, thirsty, curious, honest, compassionate, rowdy, horny, all of it.”
Bourdain wanted to bring the world closer together through food. He sought to show his audience the humanity of new people, often people they’d normally consider enemies, through the shared touchstone of eating.
Bourdain once told Helen Rosner over a meal of course, “it makes a difference if you walk in the door saying, ‘I’m going to love it here,’ or you walk in the door saying, ‘This place is going to suck.’ ” On camera, Anthony Bourdain seemed to love everything about life.
Which is part of what made his suicide so shocking. It seemed impossible that someone who loudly, for everyone to see, lived life so fully might also be struggling with mental health issues. But that’s the thing about it — we don’t share that part with the world. We hide it, often shamefully, because we see it as a failing. We fight a lonely battle because we aren’t capable of asking for help in the fight. And tragically, for many like Bourdain, that battle gets the better of us.
So when I think about Anthony Bourdain on a day like today, I don’t “choose to remember just the good parts” — rather I remember the entire man, the one we only met after his death. I remember that “everybody is going through something” as the cliche goes. That they might be putting on a smile to hide something below.
We need to de-stigmatize mental health issues, to talk about them openly as if they were any other kind of illness because that’s what they are — an illness that with treatment and care can be beaten, or cured, or at least healthily managed. I don’t know if a society more open and accepting of mental health issues could have saved Anthony Bourdain. But I do know we owe it to him and the countless others who have laid that burden down to keep the conversation moving forward so that everybody can live as fully as he did.