I was a freshman journalism student when I met Anthony Bourdain. After reading all of his books and seeing each show at least twice, I cancelled a weekend away with friends to splurge on last-minute tickets to see him speak. Although most of Bourdain’s stories were familiar to me — I had watched every episode of “No Reservations” — it was beyond worth it.
Following the event, I finagled my way into the VIP meet and greet just so Bourdain would sign my first travel journal. He was kind enough to humor my jittery, 18-year-old self with a brief conversation and a scribble in my notebook. Bourdain sweetly posed for a picture with my dweeby face peeking over his shoulder.
I quickly told him about growing up with an American mother and Czechoslovak father, who instilled a passion for travel and food. I explained that my love for his show and approach to culture stems from the lessons my parents taught me. Essentially, if someone makes you food — no matter the appearance or ingredients — you eat it with the same respect and admiration as if your own grandmother set the plate in front of you. You should probably even take seconds. I’ve always strived to embrace traveling and storytelling in that way.
When I left the event, I immediately called my mom. I was on fire. The whole world seemed so open and I desperately wanted to dive in. I continued to pursue my career in journalism, high off of that one encounter that triggered my bright-eyed and bushy-tailed demeanor.
But just as my jaded mentors predicted, that sparkle faded. The weight of the world just gets heavier. The hopelessness from pouring your soul into telling the stories you were so honored to recount only to fall flat, has been destructive. I would be lying if I said I hadn’t faced several existential crises over the years.
Many of us saw Bourdain as an idol — and perhaps that was our biggest mistake. His death so harshly reminds us that fame is not impervious to pain or sadness. We frequently omit this reality. We focus on mirroring our heroes’ success instead of recognizing the human that created it.
Bourdain embraced and uncovered human imperfections whether it be by talking about his own struggle with addiction or listening to the conflicts of others. He worked to humanize and empathize with people from every corner of the world by sharing their most vulnerable moments with them at the table. Bourdain appeared fearless. He was a warrior for many by mainstreaming travel and acceptance rather than tolerance.
The announcement of his death will ring in my ears for a while. It will remind me to take my own mental health more seriously. No more skipping therapy appointments because I’m too busy. No more hiding my pain in fear of judgement. We’ll honor Bourdain by living our lives with fervor and empathy for those around us.
Hug your loved ones. Call your therapist. Take your meds. Drink that glass of wine and slurp those noodles. RIP, Tony. You are missed.