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 that 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.
CNN chief executive Jeff Zucker sent a note to staff saying the circumstances of the death are still unclear but that “we do know that Tony took his own life.”
“Tony was an exceptional talent. A storyteller. A gifted writer. A world traveler. An adventurer. He brought something to CNN that no one else had ever brought before,” Zucker said in the letter. “This is a very, very sad day.”
Strasbourg police, emergency services and regional authorities did not immediately have information about the death. Bourdain’s assistant Laurie Woolever would not comment when reached by The Associated Press.
Celebrity Chefs, fans and U.S. President Donald Trump were among those stunned and saddened by the news.
“I want to extend to his family my heartfelt condolences,” Trump said.
Jamie Oliver wrote on Instagram that Bourdain “really broke the mould … he leaves chefs and fans around the world with a massive foodie hole that simply can’t be replaced.” Chef Yotam Ottolenghi tweeted “Shocking and sad!” while Nigella Lawson tweeted she was “Heartbroken.”
“Bourdain’s exceptional writing made this one formerly picky, fearful eater very brave and want to try everything and I’ll always be grateful for him and the worlds he openened” tweeted Lin-Manuel Miranda.
U.S. television personalities Megyn Kelly and Stacy London offered condolences and urged those who needed help to contact suicide prevention hotlines.
Bourdain’s death came three days after fashion designer Kate Spade committed 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 like 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 AP.
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 sadomasochistic community.
In 2016, 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 said 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 of his book, which he wrote by getting up at 5 a.m. 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.”
Bourdain’s introduction to “Kitchen Confidential: Insider’s Edition” was scrawled in his own hand in block letters – offering the sense of making it personal right away.
He wrote of the difficulty of long hours, hard work and poor pay, and said that one of the side benefits of his success was the ability to pay the rent. Yet there was more than a sense of wistfulness about times gone by.
CNN is currently airing the 11th season of “Parts Unknown,” and Bourdain was in France shooting an episode for the 12th season. CNN said it has not made a decision yet on whether it will proceed with the current season
Bourdain was twice divorced and has a daughter from his second marriage. Funeral arrangements were not immediately available.
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