For all his gastronomic globe-trotting, Anthony Bourdain remained, in his words, “a man of simple needs.”
When he would return to Los Angeles from his far-flung adventures, he’d hit up his favorite haunts: Olvera Street for taquitos drenched in avocado sauce, Myung In Dumplings in Koreatown for pillowy mandu, In-N-Out for animal-style cheeseburgers.
“There it is: my favorite restaurant in Los Angeles,” Bourdain once said of the fast-food chain. “A city with many fine restaurants, by the way. Just — I’m a cheap, nasty, low-down, trailer-park burger slut.”
The outspoken chef, author and television host brought to the table a relatability and innate curiosity, a quality he called “my only virtue.” His legions of fans benefited — through his writing and his many television and online shows, Bourdain transcended mere food celebrity to become an adept storyteller who weaved together tales on cuisine, culture and the connections between them.
Bourdain, known to friends as Tony, died Friday in an apparent suicide. He was 61.
“It is with extraordinary sadness we can confirm the death of our friend and colleague, Anthony Bourdain,” CNN, home to “Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown,” said in a statement. “His love of great adventure, new friends, fine food and drink and the remarkable stories of the world made him a unique storyteller.”
French chef Ludo Lefebvre, of L.A.’s Trois Mec and Petit Trois, praised Bourdain for giving viewers and readers a broader understanding of “the food culture of the world.”
“No matter what I asked him, regardless of the subject, he knew something about it,” Lefebvre said.
CNN said Bourdain hanged himself in eastern France, where he was working on an episode of “Parts Unknown.” French chef Eric Ripert of New York’s Le Bernardin, a longtime friend, found Bourdain unresponsive in his hotel room, according to the network.
Bourdain, then a little-known chef who’d spent more than two decades toiling away in New York kitchens, rose to fame with his 1999 New Yorker essay, “Don’t Eat Before Reading This.” In it, he spilled juicy kitchen secrets and dispensed advice to restaurant-goers on the best day to order fish (Tuesdays), the proper way to eat meat (never, ever well done) and how often food is manhandled in a nice restaurant before it’s served (“It’s had dozens of sweaty fingers all over it”).
“Good food, good eating, is all about blood and organs, cruelty and decay,” he began. “It’s about sodium-loaded pork fat, stinky triple-cream cheeses, the tender thymus glands and distended livers of young animals. It’s about danger — risking the dark, bacterial forces of beef, chicken, cheese, and shellfish.”
The essay — written in Bourdain’s evocative and occasionally sneering prose — became the basis for his bestselling tell-all book, “Kitchen Confidential: Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly,” in which he described himself as “the poster boy for bad behavior in the kitchen.”
Besides exposing the inner workings of restaurant kitchens, Bourdain also revealed his own personal demons. He was open about his addiction to heroin and other drugs, a habit he kicked in the 1980s.
“I’m still here — on my third life, or maybe fourth. Who knows? I should’ve died in my 20s,” he said in a 2016 interview with Biography.com.
But he continued to struggle with depression. In a 2016 episode of “Parts Unknown,” he spoke about feeling isolated and “kind of like a freak,” and he shared that an “insignificant thing” like a mediocre airport hamburger could set him down a dark path.
“Suddenly I look at the hamburger and I find myself in a spiral of depression that can last for days,” he said.
His 11-year-old daughter, Ariane, gave him something to “at least try to live” for, he told People magazine in February.
“There have been times, honestly, in my life that I figured, ‘I’ve had a good run — why not just do this stupid thing, this selfish thing … jump off a cliff into water of indeterminate depth,’ ” he said.
Bourdain was born in New York City on June 25, 1956, and grew up in Leonia, N.J. His father was a recording industry executive and his mother a staff editor for the New York Times.
Bourdain’s love affair with food began on a summer vacation in France when he ate an oyster straight from the ocean. After dropping out of Vassar College, he enrolled at the Culinary Institute of America in Hyde Park, N.Y.
After graduation, he worked at the Rainbow Room in Rockefeller Center and as a chef in a number of Manhattan restaurants throughout the 1980s.
He made a name for himself as executive chef at the brasserie Les Halles, during which time he wrote “Kitchen Confidential.”
Bourdain’s candid and vividly told tales made the memoir a hit and turned him into a media sensation. His willingness to speak his mind and ability to connect with the people he worked alongside in kitchens made him a buoyant and likable TV personality.
By 2001, he was hosting his own series on the Food Network, “A Cook’s Tour.” He then spent nearly eight years on the Travel Channel with his series “Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations” and “The Layover.”
Bourdain jumped to CNN in 2013 to host “Parts Unknown,” which became the centerpiece of the cable network’s push into original programming not tied to the news of the day.
In Los Angeles, which Bourdain featured twice on “Parts Unknown,” he paid special attention to Latino immigrants’ role in the restaurant business.
“He cared more about the line cook a lot of the time than he did about the exalted chef,” said Jonathan Gold, The Times’ food critic.
“Anthony Bourdain spoke against pretentious idiots, against exploitation and harassment,” Gustavo Arellano, author of “Taco USA: How Mexican Food Conquered America,” said in a tweet Friday. “But for me, his greatest achievement was his full-throttled defense of the food industry’s most exploited class: Latinos.”
Arellano, who is a contributor to the Los Angeles Times’ Opinion section, recalled Bourdain’s rock-star status when he joined the “Parts Unknown” host on an episode.
“We filmed after hours in Olvera Street. Daytime shooting would’ve been impossible, the producers told me, because the masses would’ve swarmed Anthony Bourdain like the prophet that he was,” Arellano tweeted.
Bourdain’s CNN series earned five Emmy Awards during its run and a Peabody Award in 2013.
“In his later seasons, he became much more attuned to the culture of the places where he was going,” Gold said. “It’s so easy to just sort of parachute drop into a place — your assistants have done all the research, you’re there for six hours, you’re on camera, you make pleasant conversation — but he didn’t seem to do that.”
President Trump paid tribute to Bourdain during his impromptu news conference on the White House lawn before leaving for the G-7 summit Friday morning.
“I enjoyed his show,” Trump said. “He was quite a character.”
Bourdain was divorced from his second wife, Ottavia Busia, mother of their daughter Ariane.
At the time of his death, he was dating Italian actress Asia Argento, one of many women who accused former Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein of sexual assault.
Bourdain became an outspoken advocate of the ensuing #MeToo movement, penning a Medium post in December in which he said: “I stand unhesitatingly and unwaveringly with the women.”
“Because late in life, I met one extraordinary woman with a particularly awful story to tell, who introduced me to other extraordinary women with equally awful stories. I am grateful to them for their courage, and inspired by them,” he wrote. “That doesn’t make me any more enlightened than any other man who has begun listening and paying attention. It does make me, I hope, slightly less stupid.”
He went on to repeatedly call out Weinstein on Twitter — cheekily posting a prison menu two weeks ago with the comment, “What’s on the menu for #Weinstein” — and publicly lambaste those in Hollywood he saw as being complicit in covering up for the disgraced producer.
In April, Bourdain posted a photo of him with Argento on Instagram, simply captioning it: “Just a perfect day. You made me forget myself @asiaargento.”
Argento mourned Bourdain’s death in a tweet Friday, writing that he “gave all of himself in everything that he did.”
“His brilliant, fearless spirit touched and inspired so many and his generosity knew no bounds,” she wrote. “He was my love, my rock, my protector. I am beyond devastated.”
To viewers, Bourdain was endlessly entertaining — a charismatic personality with a rebellious nature and an iron stomach. During his travels, he famously feasted on maggot fried rice, seal eyeball, fetal duck egg and bull penis, which he declared “rubbery as hell.”
Among the insights he shared was the value of moving “as far as you can, as much as you can,” and he urged fans to get comfortable with the idea of being uncomfortable.
“Travel isn’t always pretty,” Bourdain once wrote. “Sometimes it hurts, it even breaks your heart. But that’s OK. The journey changes you; it should change you. It leaves marks on your memory, on your consciousness, on your heart, and on your body. You take something with you. Hopefully, you leave something good behind.”
If you or a loved one is considering suicide, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at (800) 273-8255.
Times staff writer Jenn Harris contributed to this report.