Kaysersberg (France) (AFP) – Anthony Bourdain, the affable American celebrity chef and author who shared his voracious curiosity for the world’s food and cultures with millions through his popular television shows, has died at the age of 61.
Bourdain committed suicide while in France filming an episode of his Emmy-winning CNN food and travel program “Parts Unknown”, the network said Friday.
French authorities said Bourdain died by hanging at a luxury hotel, the Chambard, in the village of Kaysersberg in the Haut-Rhin region of Alsace.
“At this stage, we have no reason to suspect foul play,” prosecutor Christian de Rocquigny du Fayel said.
CNN said Bourdain’s body was found in his hotel room by his close friend Eric Ripert, the French executive chef of New York restaurant Le Bernardin.
Bourdain’s sudden death drew tributes from around the world — from the current as well as former US presidents to celebrated chefs to ordinary people who vicariously joined him on his globe-trotting travels.
“Anthony was my best friend,” Ripert said on Twitter. “An exceptional human being, so inspiring & generous.”
“His love of great adventure, new friends, fine food and drink and the remarkable stories of the world made him a unique storyteller,” CNN said in a statement.
“His talents never ceased to amaze us and we will miss him very much.”
President Donald Trump said Bourdain was “quite a character” and described his death as “very sad”.
“I’m devastated, I couldn’t believe it, he was one of the best at it for all the shows. Every Sunday I enjoyed watching him,” said Norbert Wirsching, a patron at Le Bernardin restaurant.
A gifted storyteller, Bourdain promoted haute cuisine and street food alike in his travels, encouraging viewers to “eat and drink with people without fear and prejudice”.
“We ask very simple questions: What makes you happy? What do you eat? What do you like to cook?” Bourdain said in a 2014 Peabody Award acceptance speech.
“And everywhere in the world, we go and ask these simple questions. We tend to get really astonishing answers.”
– ‘To make us a little less afraid’ –
Bourdain delighted in introducing people to new cuisines. In one episode of “Parts Unknown”, he showed president Barack Obama how to slurp Vietnamese noodles at a restaurant in Hanoi.
“He taught us about food — but more importantly, about its ability to bring us together,” Obama said in a tweet. “To make us a little less afraid of the unknown. We’ll miss him.”
After a start washing dishes in a restaurant, the New York-born Bourdain gradually rose through the ranks to become a chef.
His 2000 best-seller “Kitchen Confidential” introduced readers to the workers toiling anonymously behind the scenes in American restaurants, many of whom are Spanish-speaking immigrants.
The book kicked off his celebrity career and led to his becoming a television host, starting with “A Cook’s Tour” on the Food Network.
He went on to host a show called “No Reservations” on the Travel Channel before moving to CNN.
On the network, anchors struggled to hold back tears as they reminisced about their late colleague and urged people faced with despair or who know people struggling with depression to call a suicide hotline.
CNN anchor John Berman remembered Bourdain as a “human contradiction”.
“He loved food. He wrote about food. He lived food. He thought we obsessed about food too much,” Berman said.
“He once said to me, ‘I wish people would stop taking pictures of food and have more sex.’ You know, because what he really wanted to do was to show people life.”
– ‘Beyond devastated’ –
Bourdain rhapsodised about the joys of food and drink but was candid about his struggles with own demons, including alcohol and drug abuse and depression.
He leaves behind a young daughter Ariane, from his relationship with his ex-wife Ottavia Busia.
He had been dating Italian actress Asia Argento since 2017 and became an outspoken advocate for the #MeToo movement after she revealed she had been sexually assaulted by the movie producer Harvey Weinstein.
“I came out of a brutal, oppressive business that was historically unfriendly to women,” Bourdain said in an interview in January with “The Daily Show”.
“I knew a lot of women, it turned out, who had stories about their experience, about people I knew,” he said.
Argento said she was “beyond devastated” by his death and asked for privacy both for herself and his family.
“His brilliant, fearless spirit touched and inspired so many, and his generosity knew no bounds,” Argento said on Twitter. “He was my love, my rock, my protector.”
Bourdain’s death comes just days after the suicide of another American celebrity, 55-year-old handbag designer Kate Spade.
“Success does not protect you from depression. It doesn’t protect you from suicide,” Jodi Gold, director of the Gold Center for Mind Health and Wellness, said on CNN.
According to statistics released on Thursday by the US Centers for Disease Control, the suicide rate across the United States has risen 30 percent since 1999, and nearly 45,000 people took their lives in 2016.
Suicide presents a “growing public health problem”, with significant increases in 44 of the 50 states, said the CDC report.