Into ‘parts unknown’

Published 12:30 pm Wednesday, June 12, 2024

On June 8, 2018, celebrity chef, author and television host Anthony Bourdain was found dead in his hotel room in eastern France in what authorities determined was a suicide. He was 61 years old.

He was working on an episode of his popular show “Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown” in Strasbourg, with his friend and frequent collaborator Eric Ripert. Ripert became worried when Bourdain missed dinner and then breakfast. He later found his friend dead, a suicide by hanging, in his room at Le Chambard hotel. The suicide appeared to have been impulsive, and the autopsy showed no signs of violence nor presence of narcotics.

Though I never met him, never interviewed him, never caught of glimpse of him in person, I liked Bourdain. I liked his journalistic approach to telling stories. I liked his seemingly carefree attitude about dealing with worries, his willingness and eagerness to try new foods, meet new people, learn new things, travel new places, and adapt to whatever life brought his way.

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One of my dream vacations would have been to spend a day or three with Anthony in a country I didn’t know, learning the culture, the people, and — though I can be rather picky — trying foods I wouldn’t normally try.

I remember one episode of “No Reservations” — his first popular series — in which he and the film crew with him were invited by a boy to eat iguana with his family. The mother could understand no English, so the crew spoke openly without fear of offending her. Bourdain, smiling and nodding, talked about how awful the smell was, and kept smiling even as he ate some of it, then turned to the camera to say it was one of the most disgusting things he’d ever eaten.

But he would not refuse food offered to him. He said when people offered you their own food, especially in their own homes, they were telling you they cared about you, loved you, accepted you, and wanted you to enjoy what they enjoyed. Or at least the best they had to offer you.

So Anthony smiled and chewed away.

He was no saint. But I liked him, all the same.

I was stunned when I heard of his death, and deeply saddened when I learned the circumstances. Not another suicide, not another person giving up on the gift of life, not now, not him.

Because I am a Christian, I had many times said a prayer that God would direct someone to Anthony to share the gospel with him, and that he would also become a believer. As a follower of Jesus, I believe He is the only way to have eternal life, and to have peace and joy here and now. To not want that for other people is to be incredibly selfish and hateful.

His mother was Jewish, and his father French Catholic, but neither practiced their religions.

In 2010, he wrote of his upbringing, “I did not want for love or attention. My parents loved me. Neither of them drank to excess. Nobody beat me. God was never mentioned so I was annoyed by neither church nor any notion of sin or damnation.”

By Jewish law, Bourdain was technically “Jewish,” but wrote, “I’ve never been in a synagogue. I don’t believe in a higher power. But that doesn’t make me any less Jewish I don’t think.”

I don’t know if his beliefs changed prior to his death. I don’t know if he called out to a God he had not previously acknowledged, just before he took his own life. I don’t know. I hope so.

Now, six years later, as I remember my favorite celebrity chef, I still hope Anthony Bourdain knew Jesus before he stepped into “parts unknown.”