MY FRIEND TONY, 1956-2018
MY FRIEND TONY, 1956-2018
by Katie Rose
I spent much of yesterday in a haze.
By 6am, I was up and had heard the news of the loss of Anthony Bourdain to suicide. I was immediately heartbroken and continue to be so.
I recently wrote about the untimely death of Kate Spade, the way it was making me feel and the way the loss seemed to penetrate the popular culture. The way losing Kate Spade felt, at least to me, was like a loss of Someone Who Meant Something to Society. She was a representation of a generation and a kind of icon for a woman in a certain time and a certain place.
But losing Anthony Bourdain has felt like losing a friend.
It's hard to put into words the way I felt about Anthony Bourdain. I should probably say from the start, that I called him Tony, as all of his friends did. I'm not the sort to have illusions about celebrities; I've seen the business and know that they are really just people, and no, they in fact, do not have any clue who you are. But somehow, Tony seemed to seep into my personal culture in a way that I have trouble even describing now.
Maybe it was because it felt like he was one of us.
The epitaphs of the past days have often focused on Tony the Chef, but I first knew him as Tony the Traveler. He once said that when he achieved fame unexpectedly, that he had a lot of choices about what to do next. He figured that the best job would be to travel the world, so he began making a travel television series, called "Cooks Tour". Later, he would move to travel channel and begin work on "No Reservations" - a period that I believe was his best work. Most recently, it was "Parts Unknown".
Now a food show, the beginning years were all travel. Travel in a way that was so tangibly different than anything else that was on television. Television created by a Traveler (he would hate that description), and told in a way that felt real and honest and true. Tony was one of us. He was one of those people who was going out into the world and not giving a f@ck about what hotel he was staying at, or how luxurious the pool was, or how he could blow his money shopping all day at the souvenir shops. He went to the places that were hard, to know how people really lived, and what's more, to understand them. Food was always there, and later it would become the center of his show. But in the beginning it was just telling people's stories.
That's really who Tony was. A storyteller. A writer.
A lover of underground rock music and Irish poets, of filmaking and food. He showed us how to love life, and how to hate it. He showed us that the ugly, harsh and disgusting parts of the human experience could be valuable, meaningful and, often, delicious. He wasn't afraid of reality. He wasn't afraid of pain.
I've had so many thoughts in the last day about Tony. I first thought about his daughter, Ariane, and his ex-wife Ottavia who he married after being caught in the middle of a war in Lebanon. I thought about Eric Ripert, his best friend and the one who he cheekily nicknamed "The Ripper". I thought about his girlfriend, Asia Argento, and how they had seemed so in love, but also so off-balance in a recent episode of the show.
i felt shock and loss. I think of those days, when I was just out of college, in the midst of a recession trying to find my place in life and seeing Tony make television that made some sense to me. I saw a person who was wickedly funny, with a sharp edge and a heart of gold. I saw a guy who was raised right, was smart as hell and fully "got it" when it came to the big stuff in life. And it's true that Tony always skirted a dark edge: he loved angsty music and dark characters. He spoke about his drug-addiction and his self destruction. He loved the dark fringes of society and he had a little twinkle in his eye when he could make people in the mainstream wince a bit at all these dark things.
But eventually, we all loved him for his darkness, his humor, his intelligence. We loved the way he loved food, even the discardable bits, because it felt so real. Tony connected us to the world in a way that few have the courage to do in American society.
I will miss him. He was truly one of a kind.
When Tony was stuck in Beirut after war broke out during filming, he spent some time in a hotel, being closely guarded and waiting for repatriation by the US military. Eventually, he got access to the kitchen and made a stew. Time and again, when Tony needed comfort, he would make a stew. He always loved "peasant food" and would marvel at stews and soups, the way you could take the rejected bits, some average wine, and cook them for a few hours and something magical would happen. He said that everyone should know how to make beef stew (and roast a chicken).
So I'm going to make stew for Tony. I may even find some Vietnamese food and eat that too. Maybe I'll listen to the Ramones or Iggy Pop while I do. It won't be the same without him, but at least it will be for him.
Tony. My friend I never really knew. A bright light gone out. Safe journey my friend, wherever you're traveling to next. I hope we meet there someday.
A note about suicide:
I can't help but feel frustrated at the mechanical way in which the suicide prevention hotline is shared behind every article or post or news clip that has covered the death of both Anthony Bourdain and Kate Spade. It feels like such a detached state from the real experience of depression and suicidal thoughts.
Let's be clear here: anyone who is in this emotional place is somewhere deep and dark. They're not always able to take care of themselves and the feelings behind these behaviors are seemingly untenable for them. So I want to say this: if you are in that place where there feels like there is no light and no reprieve, try to remember that you ARE the light. You are a bright, shining light. Your light shines on people around you, even if you can't see it right now. Don't give up. This moment will pass. Tomorrow will come. Have strength. Have courage, and, even if you've asked a hundred times, or not at all, ask for help. The world is better with you in it.
National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: 1-800-273-TALK (8255)
Crisis Text Line by texting TALK to 741741.
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