"This may sound like a grandiose claim for a guy best known for stuffing his face and making wisecracks, but Bourdain presented a model of how Americans could act in the world: open-minded, always curious, and unafraid to sometimes look ridiculous," says Joshua Keating, in tribute to the late Parts Unknown star, who died today from an apparent suicide. "His persona was a refreshing alternative to the familiar archetypes of Americans abroad—flak-jacketed war correspondent, selfless aid worker, pampered tourist, blissed-out enlightenment-seeking backpacker. Bourdain showed how you could be radically open to new experiences while still being basically yourself. While profoundly aware, particularly on his CNN show, of past U.S. misdeeds and how his country is perceived in the world, he was undeniably American too. Bourdain could serve up food porn with the best of them, but also deserves credit for smuggling in-depth features on countries that rarely rate for TV-news coverage, like Congo, Myanmar, and Ethiopia, onto prime-time television."
Bourdain rewrote the rules of food and travel shows: "Anthony Bourdain made it clear throughout his published and televised career that he was a learner and a listener rather than an educator, that that to be open to new experiences and new people was the key," says Chris Fuhrmeister, adding: "Bourdain wanted to know the world, and thanks to his voice and the hundreds of hours of television he made, he convinced a legion of fans that they wanted to know the world, too. Through Bourdain’s on-air travels, his viewers came to know people and cultures they otherwise may have never met."
"I mean, honestly, WHAT A GODDAMN LIFE, MAN!" says Drew Magary, who admits to wanting Bourdain's life. "He lived a scant 61 years, but my god, were those years densely packed. Watching him trot around the globe week to week engendered only the warmest of envies. And, in death, Bourdain takes with him a collection of memories and experiences so immeasurable, and so vast, that they dwarf any book or TV episode he leaves behind. It is that life, more than his work, that millions of people (myself included) seek to emulate: a life that is hungry, thirsty, curious, honest, compassionate, rowdy, horny, all of it."
Bourdain told the truth and became perhaps the best-known celebrity in America: "Bourdain’s fame wasn’t the distant, lacquered type of an actor or a musician, bundled and sold with a life-style newsletter," says Helen Rosner. "Bourdain felt like your brother, your rad uncle, your impossibly cool dad—your realest, smartest friend, who wandered outside after beers at the local one night and ended up in front of some TV cameras and decided to stay there."
Bourdain stood up for women without making it about him: "'Right now, nothing else matters but women’s stories,' he wrote in a gut-punch of a Medium essay in December," says Megan Greenwell. "That such a seemingly obvious line from a male celebrity feels so extraordinary is dismaying; that Bourdain was willing to scream it just as loudly as he once told sous chefs to suck his dick gives me hope."
Bourdain's show increasingly became less about him: "Over the years, Bourdain’s approach to his shows became less about what he was going to eat and more about who he was going to meet," says Caroline Framke. "He made a concerted effort to resist the idea that his breadth of experience made him an expert in any given cuisine
Bourdain's appreciation of Waffle House tells you all you need to know: "It would be easy to say that Anthony Bourdain 'got' places, but I hate that term," says Spencer Hall. "I kind of hate the term 'understood,' too, because the word implies a kind of authority. 'Understood' can make experience a mandatory training webinar to be completed, with certificates, stages, merit badges, and flair earned along the way. To the observer who gets and understands and frames places, there is only acquisition, and process, and then a new target. That’s not what Bourdain’s work felt like."
Bourdain was the rare celebrity who appealed to the common man: "#AnthonyBourdain was everything I hoped he'd be in real life: smart AF but humble, kind and even goofy. And a man with a huge heart," tweets Gustavo Arellano, who appeared with Bourdain on Parts Unknown's 2017 Los Angeles episode. He adds that Bourdain "spoke against pretentious idiots, against exploitation and harassment. But for me, his greatest achievement was his full-throttled defense of the food industry's most exploited class: Latinos."
New Yorker writer Patrick Radden Keefe recalled his 2017 profile of Bourdain: "Looking back over my notebooks this morning, I recognized dark threads running through our conversations. Bourdain freely acknowledged that part of the reason he continued to work at such a frantic pace might have been a fear about where his mind might go if he ever sat still. Any facile notion I might have entertained about writing a light-hearted portrait of a man with a dream job was, upon meeting Tony, quickly overtaken by a sense that he wasn’t content—that, in all that globe-trotting, he was chasing something that would forever elude him."
His decepitively optimistic outlook will be missed the most: "Bourdain may have had a snarl," says Linda Holmes, "a cutting tongue and closets full of demons he was often fairly open about. But he treated the world as if he had not given up on it. He treated it as if, at any moment, it might open itself wider, reveal a crack into which he hadn't ever slipped, with pen and paper, with a flashlight and a fork. And he might be able to help other people understand what was inside."
Bourdain was an inspiration to many: "For those who struggled with addiction like himself, he showed that you could burst forth from that suffocating cocoon and lead a life of wonderment and adventure, traveling across the world, indulging in its myriad pleasures," says Marlow Stern. "For those who felt walled off from the rest, he presented a glorious escape."
Bourdain was deeply moral and deeply compassionate: "His character sketches of his fellow cooks showed a humility and curiosity about the lives of others that made his television series stand far, far above anyone else’s. He had been through fire, literal and spiritual," says Corby Kummer. "That left him alive to not just the pain of the cooks who had practiced their trade until they were good enough to attract his attention. It also left him alive to joy: the joy of a burrito or spring roll or soup dumpling or churrascaria or squid skewer. Of living in a new landscape, spectacularly beautiful or spectacularly simple."
Bourdain reportedly gave everything to his work: "His travel schedule was grueling and he often seemed quite beat-up from it, as anyone would be," a source tells People. "He’d put everything into the shoots and then go back to his room to isolate."