Anthony Bourdain was the guy who other guys wanted to be.
He was tall (6-foot-3) and handsome, in a craggy sort of way. He went everywhere and ate everything. He could talk easily to a master chef, a fish peddler or a rock star. Growing up, he once said, “all my heroes were musicians or writers.”
Bourdain (shown here) seemed wonderfully at ease with life, but that was an illusion; he committed suicide at 61.
For now, you catch reruns of “Parts Unknown,” Bourdain’s Peabody Award-winning series, on HBO Max; eventually, you can see more. CNN had planned a Bourdain sampling for Saturday (Marth 5), followed the next day by TV debut of “Roadrunner: A Film About Anthony Bourdain”; those plans were put on hold due to Ukraine coverage, with the film airing March 13 or later.
The series shows Bourdain at his best, sampling food and life in France, China, Vietnam and Japan. The movie does that, too, but also hints at deeper recesses.
“I tend to have a very manic personality,” Bourdain says in the film. And a depressive one, as he searched for “something that would fill the hollow parts of my soul.”
(Bourdain is heard throughout “Roadrunner.” Mostly, that’s his voice, but a few moments use an artificial re-creation of things he wrote but didn’t record — a flaw in an otherwise superb documentary.)
He tended to fall wildly in love with strong women, his friends say. There were his two ex-wives and his girlfriend, who had been shown in tabloids with another man shortly before the suicide.
Even before that (not covered in the film), there was his high school girlfriend. Bourdain followed her to Vassar, but dropped out two years later. He worked in restaurants, graduated from the prestigious Culinary Institute of America and then, he said, “got very lucky.”
A gifted writer, Bourdain had written unsuccessful novels. He switched to the non-fiction “Kitchen Confidential,” which offered a witty account of a chef’s life of drugs, sex and alcohol. It became a best-seller and, briefly, a TV comedy starring Bradley Cooper.
His next step? He had thought about doing a travel show, the film says … but he really hadn’t gone to many places. “His travels were all in his head,” Chris Collins says
With one day of preparation, the recently married Collins and Lydia Tenaglia launched a six-week journey with Bourdain. That became the Food Channel series, “A Cook’s Tour.” After some other reality shows, the Bourdain-Collins-Tenaglia team did two series for the Travel Channel (“The Layover” and “No Reservations”), then the richly crafted “Parts Unknown” for CNN.
In all, Collins said, Bourdain traveled 662,000 miles – the equivalent to spanning the globe 26 times. Sometimes reclusive by nature, he pushed himself to meet people. When the producers tried to write narration, he instead used his own richly literate style. In all, he won eight Emmys.
He worked hard, which may have been necessary. Work, Bourdain said, “stood between me and chaos.”
He was the perfect dinner companion, said Eric Ripert, another master chef. “He was so articulate – and had amazingly good manners at the table.”
Ripert was filming a “Parts Unknown” episode with him in France, when Bourdain missed a dinner and breakfast. The body was found in the hotel. In the aftermath, there are new books about (and partially by) Bourdain, plus the documentary movie.
Bourdain lived well and says in the film: “What the hell was I so angry about? This is paradise.”