Anthony Bourdain left this world in a manner that reflected his writing, his attitude and his time with us. He died on his own terms, and despite the personal demons he battled, he ended his life before it ended him. Sadly, though, it was much too early and much too jarring for everyone he left behind.
Part of me was deeply saddened — a sadness I haven’t felt since we lost my friend Chez Pazienza, another immensely talented iconoclast who left behind volumes of stupendous work as well as a too-young daughter. Another part of me, though, felt curiously abandoned, unsafe and afraid — a feeling I’ve experienced on, say, days like 9/11 or when it was confirmed that Donald Trump would be our next president. Or when Chez died, for that matter.
Why these feelings of insecurity? Bear with me. There was something about Bourdain’s very existence that was reassuring. His traveling, his writing, and, yeah, his eating were only a fraction of what made him such a gift to humanity. It was comforting to know that a man with such unapologetic wisdom, talent, humor and rationality was out there — often in scary places — representing America to the world and reflecting how we can and should regard our neighbors, riding along with us on this small planet.
There was safety in knowing that the values of listening, of understanding and learning still existed in a man whose lanky, rutted, ballsy image was beamed around the world, ensuring that no matter how fucked up things might get, there was always a little bit of satisfaction knowing that at least someone with a big brain and laser-sharp wit was reaching out to break bread rather than breaking lives.
We’ll never see another Bourdain. We’ll never see another travelogue like his. There will surely be other good ones, but none that will match his and his crew’s attention to detail, profundity and impeccably tasteful production values. Not only did Bourdain & Company drag us with them to nearly every corner of the planet, but they produced every episode with a level of care and thoughtfulness that matched, both visually and emotionally, the natural splendor that surrounded them. Borrowing from the world’s most legendary artists and filmmakers, every frame of No Reservations and Parts Unknown was a near-masterpiece… at worst.
As if that wasn’t enough, Bourdain wrote his narrations with an economy of words rivaling the literary greats of the past — words that invariably summarized a place and its people entirely on its own, without seeing a single millisecond of video. In other words, we could hear the beauty or terribleness of a destination in his voice just as clearly as we watched it all through his eyes, not to mention the Emmy-winning eyes of his team. At the very least, I hope the existence of those episodes has guilted other filmmakers and producers to try harder, to make better television, especially knowing the chasmic dropoff in quality from Bourdain’s shows to whomever resides in second place.
As a professional writer, I have one ultimate goal to achieve someday before I join Tony and Chez at whatever dive bar they’re in right now, likely drinking Michter’s and cracking the greatest fucking Trump jokes every spoken — my goal is to write something that’s at least halfway as good as anything those two bastards wrote, be it profound or silly. But there will only ever be one Anthony Bourdain. Perhaps like many artists, his work will carry forth with greater weight in death than in life.
In that sense, as long as we continue to find ways to look at the world through his eyes, he will have never left us. Regardless of whether we can craft graceful Bourdainian sentences about our travels around the Sun, the truth is that if we can live our lives with similar values about our world, there will be much less to fear about not having Bourdain in our homes to guide us on our collective journey.