Reflecting On Anthony Bourdain

Ken Tuccio

It was like a punch in the gut.

“Anthony Bourdain Dead At 61”

That was the “Breaking News” headline I saw on CNN when I turned on the TV in my home office this morning.

I saw that, but it didn’t immediately register. I sat there watching Alisyn Camerota and John Berman talking about it, but it didn’t feel real.

Anthony Bourdain can’t be dead, right?

How can a guy like Anthony Bourdain, a man who exemplified everything important about being alive, be dead? How could he be gone?

Wait, Anthony Bourdain committed suicide?

No. I don’t want to believe that.

That can’t be real.

Anthony Bourdain celebrated life, there’s no way he took his own.

As I kept watching the news it began to sink in. This was real. Anthony Bourdain is gone. He took his own life.

We now live in a world without Anthony Bourdain in it.

Celebrity deaths don’t normally bother me. I’m not saying that in a callous way, but traditionally when I hear about someone passing away I see it as just part of the news cycle.

Kate Spade tragically took her own life earlier this week, it didn’t rock me. Tom Petty passed away last year, and while I definitely went on a binge listening to his music, it didn’t put a lump in my throat. 

When I heard that Anthony Bourdain is no longer with us, well, that caused a whirlwind of emotions.

Over 5 years ago I decided to embark on a career in media. I started the Welcome To Connecticut Podcast and set a goal for myself to make a living in the media landscape. When I began that adventure there was one person I aspired to model myself after; that person was Anthony Bourdain.

Anthony Bourdain carried himself with an authenticity that was rare in the world of celebrity chefs and television personalities.

Most media personalities, whether it’s in television or radio, come across as fake. It’s as if they’re putting on a front, playing a character in front of the camera. I never liked that, and that’s exactly why I liked Anthony Bourdain; because he never did.

Whether you were watching A Cooks Tour, No Reservations, The Layover or Parts Unknown, Bourdain managed to come across as the genuine article. He came across as the guy you’d see at the corner of the bar, sipping on a bourbon while watching whatever game was on the television screen. He came off as real.

One of the things Anthony Bourdain taught me through his shows, films and writing was that people have flaws. Nobody is a pristine Barbie doll, regardless of how much they want you to believe they are. 

The majority of people you find in front of the camera attempt to pretend those flaws don’t exist, Bourdain didn’t. Anthony Bourdain embraced his flaws, because he understood that those flaws are the foundation for the person you become.

In everything I’ve ever done in both my personal and professional life, I’ve attempted to keep that in mind. I’ve tried to bring the Anthony Bourdain authenticity to everything I do.

The greatest professional compliment I’ve ever received was from a writer with the Connecticut Post. The Post was doing an article covering the premiere of my WTNH program The Local Drinking Show, and upon previewing the first episode the writer said to me “This is like a local TV version of a Bourdain show.” He even wrote that comment in the piece he printed for the paper.

That comparison meant the world to me, so much so that his article is the only piece of press I have framed in my office; that comment is the primary reason.

Anthony Bourdain’s death has shaken me. Not just as someone who admired him professionally, but also as someone who (like many others) has had bouts of sadness and depression.

When I was down I would often look to Bourdain’s show, and his apparent zest for life, to pull me out of the doldrums that I found myself living in.

To know that Bourdain, a guy we saw as a portrait for embracing life and all it had to offer, was battling dark demons that we can’t even comprehend; that’s tough to reconcile. I can’t really wrap my head around that.

We’re left with a choice though. We can sit here and attempt to solve the mystery of Bourdain’s last tragic moments or we can celebrate what Anthony Bourdain represented.

I’d like to do the later, and I’d like to believe Anthony Bourdain would want us to as well.

Anthony Bourdain represented going outside of your comfort zone. He represented living life without a fear of trying new things, embracing cultures that are polar opposite of your own. Anthony Bourdain represented expanding your borders and trying to understand other people’s views of the world; using that expansion and understanding to grow as a human being.

Anthony Bourdain encouraged you not to run away from your past, but to instead use it to shape who you become. He exemplified authenticity; an authenticity that is practically non-existent in the world of media, but tough to come by in day-to-day life as well.

The phrase “there will never be another person like …” is used all too often in situations of celebrity deaths, and I really don’t want to end this piece with that overused hackneyed saying, but unfortunately I’m not a skilled enough writer to come up with anything better.

Perhaps if I were Anthony Bourdain, I could have.

Ken Tuccio is the host of the podcast FOOD & DRINK on, as well as the producer and host of THE LOCAL DRINKING SHOW with WTNH News Channel 8.