PARIS — American TV celebrity and food writer Anthony Bourdain was found dead in his hotel room Friday in France while working on his CNN series on culinary traditions around the world. He was 61.
CNN confirmed the death, saying Bourdain was found unresponsive Friday morning by friend and chef Eric Ripert in the French city of Strasbourg. It called his death a suicide.
Bourdain achieved celebrity status after the publication in 2000 of his best-selling book “Kitchen Confidential: Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly.” The book created a sensation by combining frank details of his life and career with behind-the-scenes observations on the culinary industry. It was a rare crossover — a book intended for professional cooks that had enormous mass appeal.
Bourdain went on to achieve widespread fame thanks to his CNN series “Parts Unknown” — and was filming an upcoming segment for the program when he was found dead, according to CNN.
“His love of great adventure, new friends, fine food and drink and the remarkable stories of the world made him a unique storyteller. His talents never ceased to amaze us and we will miss him very much,” CNN said.
Strasbourg police, emergency services and regional authorities did not immediately have information about the death and Bourdain’s assistant Laurie Woolever would not comment.
Chefs, fans and President Donald Trump were among those stunned and saddened by the news. “I want to extend to his family my heartfelt condolences,” Trump said.
Bourdain was a familiar figure on Chicago’s culinary scene. In 2012, he spent 43 hours in the the city taping an episode of “The Layover with Anthony Bourdain,” and in an interview with the Sun-Times he famously dissed the city’s most famous culinary export.
“In spite of their general excellence in food, drink, music — everything really — their most famous cultural export is the appalling deep dish pizza,” Bourdain said. “Irony being, in a town where everything is great, they’re most famous for something that sucks.”
He was equally outspoken about Chicago’s short-lived ban on fois gras (the ordinance went into effect in 2006 and repealed two years later), telling the Sun-Times in a 2006 interview, “…it’s like telling an artist you can paint all you want, but you can’t use the color red.”
Bourdain was twice divorced and has a daughter from his second marriage.
His current girlfriend, Italian actress Asia Argento, asked for privacy via Twitter and Instagram, during this difficult time. “Anthony gave all of himself in everything that he did. His brilliant, fearless spirit touched and inspired so many, and his generosity knew no bounds. He was my love, my rock, my protector. I am beyond devastated. My thoughts are with his family. I would ask that you respect their privacy and mine,” she wrote.
Bourdain’s death drew new attention to celebrity suicides. It came three days after fashion designer Kate Spade died of apparent suicide in her Park Avenue apartment in New York. Spade’s husband and business partner said the 55-year-old business mogul had suffered from depression and anxiety for many years.
Bourdain’s “Parts Unknown” seemed an odd choice for CNN when it started in 2013 — part travelogue, part history lesson, part love letter to exotic foods. Each trip was an adventure. There had been nothing quite like it on the staid news network, and it became an immediate hit.
He mixed a coarseness and whimsical sense of adventurousness, true to the rock ‘n’ roll music he loved.
“We are constantly asking ourselves, first and foremost, what is the most (messed) up thing we can do next week?” he said in a 2014 interview with The Associated Press.
Besides showcasing food, a “Parts Unknown” trip to Japan in the series’ first season included an odd show with robots and scantily clad women, a visit with a death metal band and a meal shared with a woman involved in the city’s sadomachistic community.
In 2017, he sat down for some bun cha in Hanoi, Vietnam, with President Barack Obama.
Bourdain was reluctant to analyze why his series succeeded.
“If you think about who the audience is and what their expectations might be, I think that’s the road to badness and mediocrity,” he told the AP. “You go out there and show the best story you can as best you can. If it’s interesting to you, hopefully it’s interesting to others. If you don’t make television like that, it’s pandering.”
The American chef, author and television personality was born in New York City and was raised in Leonia, New Jersey. He had written that his love of food began as a youth while on a family vacation in France, when he ate his first oyster.
Bourdain also mentioned his youth was punctuated by drug use and he dropped out of Vassar College after two years.
Working in restaurants led him to the Culinary Institute of America, where he graduated in 1978, and began working in kitchens in New York City. He became executive chef at Brasserie Les Halles in 1998.
In the preface to the latest edition “Kitchen Confidential,” Bourdain wrote of his shock at the success off his book, which he wrote by getting up at 5 a.m. in the morning to steal a couple of hours at the computer before appearing at the saute station for lunch.
He said he never intended to write an expose or to “rip the lid off the restaurant business.” He said he liked the restaurant business the way it was.
“What I set out to do was write a book that my fellow cooks would find entertaining and true,” he said. “I wanted it to sound like me talking at say … ten o’clock on a Saturday night, after a busy dinner rush, me and a few cooks hanging around in the kitchen, knocking back a few beers and talking.”
Bourdain said he really had no idea that anyone outside the world of chefs would even pay attention to his comments.
“The new celebrity chef culture is a remarkable and admittedly annoying phenomenon. While it’s been nothing but good for business — and for me personally — many of us in the life can’t help snickering about it,” he wrote. “Of all the professions, after all, few people are less suited to be suddenly thrown into the public eye than chefs.”
If you or someone you know is in crisis, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255); or text TALK to 741741 to text with a trained crisis counselor from the Crisis Text Line for free, 24/7.
Contributing: Sun-Times staff reporter Miriam Di Nunzio