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Andrew Zimmern on Bourdain: ‘You Don’t Know Which of Your Friends Is Suffering’

The fellow chef and television host conveys his heartbreak over the loss of his friend

Bourdain and Zimmern at a 2012 event
Amy McKeever

TV personality and chef Andrew Zimmern was a longtime friend of food-world icon Anthony Bourdain, who died earlier today. In a phone call this morning, he spoke of his heartbreak, the perverse nature of mental health issues, and Bourdain’s longterm legacy.

We lost, in my opinion, one of the greatest social commentators and brilliant minds of my generation. His wisdom — people saw him traveling and doing food, but we would spend hours together and we would never talk about that. There was never a better person to talk about music and movies and social justice and any of that with.

Tony was a close friend of mine and it was a beautiful relationship. I’m a transparent person and sober a long time and deal with my own mental health issues, and I try to have honest conversations with people in my life. He was an incredible sounding board, a gracious and kind friend to me.

Over the last few years, he told me many times he had never been happier. So many things don’t add up, as they often don’t. I was thinking of Kate Spade and Robin Williams, who publicly struggled with so much, and that wasn’t Tony’s story. It’s a reminder to me that, as people, we share a common humanity that is always very personal. We all have an inner dialogue that often stands in contrast to our outer appearance and behavior. The hard part for me is to realize you don’t know which of your friends is suffering from not having their outsides meet their insides.

There’s clearly a lot we don’t know, and I’m sure over the next days and weeks we’ll learn more. But two things keep rolling around in my head. The first time I met him, 14 years ago, he told me television was a vile mistress. This was before Tony had become a lion in this world. And, I can only imagine, as we had talked about it, he had dreams. He wanted to teach, he wanted to get off this merry-go-round that we’re all on.

And I think I may have read it in an interview he did — someone had asked him if he would ever stop doing what he was doing, and I’m paraphrasing, but he said, “I think about it all the time, but I’m pretty sure I’m going to die in the saddle.” And that was just a short while ago. It was eerily prophetic and perhaps at the same time maybe completely meaningless to the reality that was going on.

I think Tony’s legacy is immeasurable. He was a brilliant social commentator and he was inspiring and awakening an audience that had not previously been interested in it. He was singular in his presentation and what he was portraying. He was not derivative; he was original. And he was the loveliest of anarchists. I remember at dinner a long time ago, he and I were both quasi lecturing some younger folks in our industry. They were all insisting that they could do what he did, and he said, “Good luck. The minute you sign that contract you sign away a huge piece of yourself.” He understood the Faustian bargain we all live in.

There are so many people that struggle with mental health issues, with addiction issues. I struggle and it’s a tremendous reminder to have your support system to to be engaged with the people that you love and actually share what’s going on with your life. It’s a wonderful time to honor his legacy and also help spread the word that there are solutions and there is help for people who are struggling.

If you or anyone you know is considering suicide or self-harm or is anxious, depressed, upset, or needs to talk, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255 or text the Crisis Text Line at 741-741. For international resources, here is a good place to begin.