"When he spoke about her, his eyes danced," a source close to the late celebrity chef tells PEOPLE

By Melody Chiu
June 08, 2018 03:05 PM

In his final interview with PEOPLE, Anthony Bourdain opened up about changing his daredevil ways for his 11-year-old daughter Ariane.

Now a source who worked closely with Bourdain tells PEOPLE exclusively the late celebrity chef and wordsmith — who was found dead at 61 on Friday in France from an apparent suicide — saw fatherhood as one of the bright spots of his life.

“It was quite evident that Tony was a ‘lighter’ human being around his daughter,” says the source. “When he spoke about her, his eyes danced. He talked about her constantly.”

While speaking to PEOPLE in February, Bourdain noted that it was important he never shot in two cities back-to-back for his CNN series Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown so he could spend five days a month with Ariane, who lives with his ex-wife Ottavia Busia in New York.

Anthony Bourdain
Mike Pont/WireImage

“He was so proud that she was into jiu-jitsu and would say that at her age she was stronger than he was,” adds the source. “He was a tender giant. It’s a side he didn’t show too often.”

Bourdain was one of the executive producers on ABC’s cooking-themed reality competition series The Taste, which aired from 2013 to 2015, but “he hung out with the crew more often than with producers or other talent of the show,” says the source.

The star would often retire to his trailer to read a newspaper, but was also “quick to pull out his favorite beer and offer it to anyone who stopped by,” adds the source.

Open about his past struggles and ongoing recovery with drug addiction, Bourdain “faced some demons” and “was the smartest man in the room and also probably the most fragile,” says the source.

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But at the end of the day, his loved ones knew him best as someone who wanted to make a lasting impact with his work and life.

Says the source: “He was no nonsense and no bulls—, but no one would deny he had a big heart. If you pulled back the layers, you knew he was as human as the rest of us. He understood the power of words and at his core was the ultimate storyteller.”

If you or someone you know is considering suicide, please contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255), text “help” to the Crisis Text Line at 741-741 or go to suicidepreventionlifeline.org.