CNN Roadrunner: A Glimpse into Understanding Anthony Bourdain
It’s going on four years since we all heard the devastating news of Anthony Bourdain’s suicide. So many of us who watched Anthony’s show inspired by his unique talents and love of travel would have never guessed that he was that unhappy and in that much pain. Director Morgan Neville helps us understand the uniqueness of this amazing storyteller and how things began to spiral out of control. How fame, money and freedom for some folks can be unmanageable, overly consuming and a path toward darkness.
When I heard a documentary was being made on Bourdain’s life by CNN it was definitely on my list to watch. I got a chance to see it on a flight back home but could not finish it and so I decided to watch it again. Both times feeling sad and reflective of our fragility as humans.
The film starts with Anthony’s writing of his first book “Kitchen Confidential” when he begins to experience success as a best-selling author in his early 40s and how it led to the early developments of a travel show around food and culture. I was surprised to see that there was so much video of him as an unknown young chef woven into the story line. The entire documentary offers so much video of his life both on and off the show along with his voiceover. You get to experience a shy, unsure, somewhat brash former heroin addict transformed into a masterful story teller engaging his staff and audience on the true meaning of travel… global humanity. The film does a good job of integrating so much of what Bourdain loved …movies, books, music and food. A somewhat complex yet thoughtful human being capable of sharing what he learns with his audience with both humor and a dose of down-to-earth seriousness.
You see, the evolution of what becomes his unique style of integrating history, politics, culture and travel, making it less about the food and more about interactions and conversations around the role that food plays in our daily lives. He became an inspiration to his crew, his newfound friends and a growing television audience becoming more famous and challenged on what to do next. It is here where things begin to fall apart.
By the middle of the film you experience Anthony’s unhappiness, obsessiveness and restlessness having become this famous globetrotter, traveling 80% of every year on the road. How it consumes him and slowly wrecks his two marriages and his relationship with his fiancé and his crew. He becomes isolated, depressed and detached, wanting to have a normal work life balance but not being able to manage it. Travel had profoundly changed him, allowing us to benefit from his many experiences, but somehow it was not enough to make him happy. Sad to say, we got the better part of the deal.
The film ends with so many of his closest colleagues sharing their love for the man and their pain for the loss of this dear friend. For some of them, it is still very raw, as it may be the case for some of his ardent fans. The reality is that mental health is part of living a healthy, normal life. Anthony was very open about his demons, many times talking about his depression and addictions, even seeing a therapist. Yet, what is inside anybody’s head can not sometimes be explained and is why we all need to have greater awareness of mental health as part of our daily wellness routine.
Although gone, Anthony Bourdain left so much for us to ponder about humanity and its relationship to travel, food, and history, opening our minds and hearts about our commonality as humans regardless of where we live. There will most likely never be a travel show like his. Certainly, there will be many who will try. The film is a worthy watch and I highly recommend it in understanding who Anthony Bourdain is and the impact he had on so many people who believe we are all a global family and thus be more accepting. This may very well not be the last film about Bourdain and his legacy.
If you or someone you know might be at risk of suicide, call 1-800-273-8255 to reach the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline.