The Emmy winner — whose popular CNN program Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown was in production in France during the time of his death — evolved into an iconic American chef in the decades after his passion for the culinary arts was sparked with the taste of an oyster on a childhood vacation in France.
“Now, this was a truly significant event,” Bourdain recalled of the moment in Kitchen Confidential: Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly, published in 2000. “I remember it like I remember losing my virginity — and in many ways, more fondly.”
The combination of Bourdain’s humor, knowledge of the industry and creativity in the kitchen made his debut book a New York Times bestseller — and helped turn his life around in his 40s.
“Oh, man, at the age of 44, I was standing in kitchens, not knowing what it was like to go to sleep without being in mortal terror,” he told Biography in 2016. “I was in horrible, endless, irrevocable debt. I had no health insurance. I didn’t pay my taxes. I couldn’t pay my rent. It was a nightmare, but it’s all been different for about 15 years. If it looks like my life is comfortable, well, that’s a very new thing for me.”
Below, take a look back at Bourdain’s ups and downs before and after fame — in his own words.
1. Overcoming Drug Addiction
Bourdain was candid about his struggles with heroin use. “I just like heroin, it feels really good. But I can’t do it anymore,” he told the Telegraph in 2001.
It was a drug Bourdain had long since stopped using. “I got off of heroin in the 1980s,” he told Biography in 2016. “Friends of mine from the ‘70s and ‘80s, they just got off five, six, maybe 10 years ago. And we’re the lucky ones. We made it out alive. There are a lot of guys that didn’t get that far. But you know, I also don’t have that many regrets either.”
In Kitchen Confidential, Bourdain detailed the many drugs he used with friends in the ’80s. “We were high all the time, sneaking off to the walk-in at every opportunity to ‘conceptualize,'” he wrote. “Hardly a decision was made without drugs. Pot, quaaludes, cocaine, LSD, psilocybin mushrooms soaked in honey and used to sweeten tea, Seconal, Tuinal, speed, codeine and, increasingly, heroin, which we’d send a Spanish-speaking busboy over to Alphabet City to get. We worked long hours and took considerable pride in our efforts-the drugs, we thought, having little effect on the end-product.”
2. Becoming a Celebrity Chef
After graduating from the Culinary Institute of America in 1978, Bourdain ran the kitchens in a handful of New York City restaurants before his 1999 New Yorker article “Don’t Eat Before Reading This” led to Kitchen Confidential and several more titles.
“I may not be the smartest guy in the world, but I am constitutionally incapable of doing the same thing over and over again,” he explained to Biography. “I lived that way for 30 years, doing the same ole, same ole — washing dishes, working the line. Life’s short, man, and I have a restless mind.”
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3. Making It on TV
Bourdain was also charismatic in front of the camera, and he parlayed his print success into a television career that took him across the world to host A Cook’s Tour (2002-2003), No Reservations (2005-2012), The Layover (2011-2013) and Parts Unknown (2013-2018).
“I work really hard to not ever think about my place in the world,” he told Business Insider of his approach to celebrity in 2016. “I’m aware of my good fortune. I’m very aware of it, and I’m very aware that, because of it, people offer me things. Opportunities to do extraordinary things. The ones that are interesting to me are collaborations. I get to work with people who 10 years ago I wouldn’t have dreamed to have been able to work with. And that’s a big change professionally, and it’s something that I think about a lot.”
One of Bourdain’s biggest TV moments came when he interviewed President Barack Obama in Hanoi, Vietman, for Parts Unknown near the end of his final term in office in 2016. “I had a healthy skepticism of the thing from the get-go,” Bourdain told Politico of the interview. “I didn’t want to serve as a platform for a policy discussion, I didn’t want to present myself as a journalist, but if the president wanted to hang out and eat bún chả in a city I loved, I responded to him in the same way I would anyone, with excitement about the prospect.”
4. Divorce, Marriage and Becoming a Dad — in Two Weeks
2007 was a busy year for Bourdain, who within two weeks got a divorce from his first wife, Nancy Putkoski; married his second wife, mixed martial arts fighter Ottavia Bourdain; and welcomed a daughter, Ariane, who is now 11 years old.
Speaking with Men’s Journal in 2015, Bourdain explained that he never thought he’d become a parent.
“If I was sure of anything, it was that. But I’ve enjoyed every moment from conception until now,” he shared. “I loved living with a pregnant woman. I loved changing diapers. I love being the father of a little girl. There’s not a minute of it that hasn’t been awesome.”
The little one took after her father’s love of seafood — a source of pride for him. “She eats raw oysters, squid, and octopus,” Bourdain told the magazine. “She’s a pretty cool kid.”
As for shifting his priorities as a parent, Bourdain told Business Insider in 2016, “I’m no longer the star of the movie. At all. That’s it!”
He continued: “It’s a huge relief in a lot of ways. And it’s such an understatement to say that having a kid changes your life. You’re just no longer the first person you think about or care about. You’re not the most important person in the room. It’s not your film. The music doesn’t play for you — it’s all about the girl. And that changes everything.”
5. His Second Divorce
News of the celebrity chef and Ottavia‘s divorce emerged in 2016, following nine years of marriage. “Because of professional decisions we both have made, my husband and I have been for years in an unconventional relationship,” she said in a statement at the time. “Nothing has changed. We love each other. We respect the decisions the other has made. And we’ll always consider ourselves a family.”
“My wife and I live, have lived, very separate lives for years,” Bourdain told PEOPLE in 2016. “There’s no drama here. We get along really, really well and it’s not a big lifestyle change happening here.”
Bourdain revealed to PEOPLE that it can be “really tough” having to travel and be away from his family “about 250 days a year,” but noted that it was normal for his daughter Ariane. “You know, this is a girl who knows her parents are weird,” he said. “We have somehow managed to raise a very healthy, very happy, self-assured little girl who knows she’s loved, who finds her parents entertaining.”
He explained that his focus would be moving past the split. “As a family, I think we’ve done a really good job and we’re doing a really good job and would like to keep it that way,” said. “As a marriage, clearly it’s not ideal but there’s no injured party here, nobody’s angry, nobody feels like the injured party, nobody feels like a victim. So we’ll proceed like that.”
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6. Finding Love Again
Bourdain began dating Italian actress Asia Argento, 42, in 2017 after the two collaborated on the Rome episode of Parts Unknown in 2016.
“We both work a lot,” he told PEOPLE of their relationship last year. “And we’re both away from home a lot so we’re both circus freaks in the same circus — or different circuses I guess.”
Argento was one of the dozens of women to accuse Harvey Weinstein of sexual assault and harassment in 2017 (Weinstein has “unequivocally” denied “any allegations of non-consensual sex”). Bourdain became a fierce supporter of the #MeToo movement, showing unwavering support for his girlfriend, and even holding a dinner for Argento and fellow Weinstein accusers Rose McGowan and Annabella Sciorra.
“It was an honor to cook for this meeting of the minds,” he said on Twitter, tweeting out a picture of the meal in November.
In April, Bourdain shared on Instagram that the couple had the “perfect day,” adding of Argento, “You made me forget myself.”
If you or someone you know is considering suicide, please contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255).