Anthony Bourdain, the chef turned television host with a long history of culinary and travel-themed reality programming, has died at age 61.
Bourdain died by suicide in France, where he was producing new episodes of his CNN reality series Parts Unknown. He was found this morning by his friend and chef Eric Ripert.
(If you are in distress or struggling, or if someone you know is showing any of these warning signs, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, 1-800-273-8255, or text the word CONNECT to 741741.)
Since the early 2000s, Bourdain has been traveling the world and sharing his culinary adventures with viewers, whether he was analyzing an In-N-Out burger or eating with the President of the United States.
Bourdain’s current network, CNN, said in a statement:
“It is with extraordinary sadness we can confirm the death of our friend and colleague, Anthony Bourdain. 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.”
Bourdain’s long history of reality TV
In 2014, I interviewed Bourdain when he was judging and producing ABC’s cooking competition The Taste. I asked him about being on a big network studio-based show versus his other work, and he said:
“It’s always a quality of life issue for me. Am I having fun? Am I working with people I like? It is it interesting to me? I very much understand that a big network competitive reality show is not going to appeal to a certain number of people who really like Kitchen Confidential or are fans of ‘Parts Unknown’. I’m a guy with a lot of interests. As I’ve said before, this bus makes many stops; I don’t expect everybody to get off on all of them.”
There were many stops on his reality TV journey. While Bourdain’s memoir, Kitchen Confidential, was adapted into a quickly-cancelled Fox sitcom starring Bradley Cooper, his reality TV shows were popular and critically acclaimed.
Bourdain was first hired by Food Network to host and produce a show about his culinary travels, and A Cook’s Tour aired from 2002 to 2003.
He moved to Travel Channel for a similar series, Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations, which won two Emmys and was nominated for 12 over its eight seasons. It also had a spin-off, also starring Bourdain, called The Layover.
Bourdain left Travel Channel and essentially moved his show to CNN, where it became Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown. It began airing its 11th season in May, and has been nominated for 25 Emmy awards and won five.
While he produced those shows, Bourdain also frequently guest judged Top Chef, and was part of the judging panel for season eight, the show’s first all-star season.
Bourdain wasn’t shy about criticizing the industry that employed him, including Bravo’s decision to use oil spill money to fund Top Chef.
The final episode of No Reservations included a commercial that made it seem as though Bourdain was driving and endorsing a car, even though he wasn’t, prompting him to write an essay about product integration that called out Travel Channel’s management and say that it was “an inglorious way to go out.”
The year that Anthony Bourdain: Parks Unknown debuted on CNN, it also won a Peabody Award, and the citation did an excellent job of summarizing the show—and Bourdain as a host:
“Though Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown is sometimes referred to as a “culinary travelogue,” the shorthand doesn’t do the series justice. Bourdain, who first made his name as a chef does seem obsessed with discovering new taste sensations. But wherever his appetite takes him, it’s the side-dish stories that make his visits so memorable and nourishing. Apart from his knowledge of food and cooking, he’s comfortable with himself and with other people, whether he’s surveying Tokyo’s freaky afterhours scene, meeting whitewater fishermen on the Congo River, or waltzing into the house behind Greedy Greg’s sidewalk rib stand in Detroit to get a helping of greens straight from the owners’ stove. 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. A Peabody Award goes to Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown for expanding our palates and horizons in equal measure.”