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The Last Curious Man

GQ logo GQ 12/4/2018 Drew Magary

Chris Bourdain is searching for a word that he cannot quite find. We're sitting together in a small café in Grand Central Terminal, drinking table wine and talking about his late older brother, Anthony. Chris has a habit of looking away as he's talking to you, one of many physical traits he shares with Tony. And right now he is thinking, with Bourdainian intensity, for a way to sum up his brother succinctly, and for a very specific reason.

"The death certificate that was printed in France," he tells me, "listed as his profession 'chef.' And I tried for months to figure out, what is the appropriate way to describe what Tony has been doing for the last seven or eight years? There's no description for it."

It's true. There is no easy description for Tony Bourdain, or for the utterly unique role he managed to carve out for himself in this world. He was a chef. He was an author. He was a very popular TV host—the cheerfully d**kish center of the food-media universe. He was an explorer who removed degrees of separation from the world's sociological arithmetic, a man who was always, in his words, hungry for more.

He's gone now. And while everyone I talked to for this story is still coming to grips with the enormity of that loss, one can also sense a fierce determination among them that Bourdain's work cannot end with him. That's why Chris is racking his brain, trying to boil it all down to a simple vocation, a template that others might be able to follow to live richer, fuller lives.

This is Tony, according to those who knew him best.

Anthony Bourdain et al. standing in a kitchen: Bourdain with the staff of Les Halles. © Martin Schoeller / AUGUST Bourdain with the staff of Les Halles.

Philippe Lajaunie (owner, Les Halles, where Bourdain had been executive chef): The first time I met him, he was in the kitchen and cooking. It was a cramped kitchen that had been designed back in the '70s, so it was kind of out of proportion. And he was very quiet. Almost timid. He had just worked a few years for an Italian restaurant, and at the beginning all of his specials were very Italian. So that was rattling my cage a little bit—it was a French restaurant!

Jeremiah Tower (chef): I went by the restaurant, Les Halles, because I'd read [his memoir] Kitchen Confidential when it came out, and I was absolutely wowed by the book. And he asked me what I thought of Les Halles, and I said, "Well, it's a fairly terrible restaurant." And he loved that I said it.

Chris Bourdain (brother): I loved Les Halles. I miss it. Had he ever showed interest in cooking [when we were kids]? No, no, no, no, no, not at all. Zero, zero, zero.

Sam Goldman (childhood friend): The first time I met Tony was the winter of 1969. He was two grades behind me, which in high school made him an entirely different generation. He was new at our school, and this Bourdain kid was tiny. I remember we hazed him just a bit. The first Friday of our ski-club trips, we made him ride in the luggage rack.

Bourdain: I know he didn't like [college], and I know he didn't care. Our parents did not have a lot of money, and I definitely remember, we went to some restaurant in Putnam County, New York, on Route 22, where our parents had a massive, huge f**king argument with Tony: Why are we paying for Vassar? You're f**king up there. Which he was. The upshot of that was he did not go back to Vassar. After that, he ended up working out of Provincetown, Massachusetts, down at the restaurant there.

Miles Borzilleri (Vassar class of 1979): I was on campus for a couple years when he was around. The thing that I remember is Tony used to have two samurai swords. They were holstered around his waist, and he would just go through the day like that. That was part of his little persona.

Jeff Formosa (musician, childhood friend): He was big with nunchucks for a while. I don't know that he was good at striking, but he made them fly around his body, and he didn't hit himself too often. He was a joker, too. He'd run into the next room and turn on a blender or a noisy appliance, and he would start screaming like his hand was caught in it.

David Remnick (editor in chief, 'The New Yorker'): My wife came home one day, and she said, "Look. There's a really nice woman at the newspaper. Her son is a writer. She wanted you to take a look at his work," which seemed...adorable, right? A mother's ambition for a son. I took this manuscript out of its yellow envelope, not expecting much. I started to read. It was about a young cook, working at a pretty average steak-and-frites place on lower Park Avenue. I called this guy up on the phone. He answered it in his kitchen. I said, "I'd like to publish this work of yours in The New Yorker. I hope that's okay." That was the beginning of Anthony Bourdain being published. I don't know if there's any way to put this other than to say he invented himself as a writer, as a public personality. It was all there.

After the success of 'Kitchen Confidential,' Bourdain was approached by freelance TV producers Lydia Tenaglia and Chris Collins, who would go on to form Zero Point Zero Productions, the studio behind 'A Cook's Tour,' 'No Reservations,' and 'Parts Unknown.'

Lydia Tenaglia (co-founder, ZPZ Productions): Chris [Collins] and I were doing a lot of medical shows, like Trauma in the ER. I read Kitchen Confidential, and I said, "Hey, I'm a producer. Can I talk with you?" And [Tony] was like, "Yeah, sure, whatever." We made an appointment to meet at the restaurant. It was in between the lunch and the dinner service, and I walked in, and he was sitting at the bar. He had his chef whites on, unbuttoned, and he was having a drink. He stood up, and my first thought was "He's very tall. We're going to be looking up his nose a lot with our cameras." We watched [him] in the kitchen, clearly in control. He just talked about what traveling the world would be like for him. He had gone to France as a kid, he had gone to Japan once, and that was it.

Bourdain: We were staying with my father's aunt and uncle in France, when I was like 7. There were these two night tables, and they had little drawers you open at the bottom, and in there were the chamber pots. We had to try them. I think we only did number one. We weren't gonna be nasty. We thought it was very funny to pee in them and then pour 'em out in the alley. It was f**king hysterical.

Tenaglia: Chris and I got married in December 2000, and a week after we got married, we left for this five-week foray with Anthony Bourdain. We joke all these years later that we got married and then, a week later, we all got married.

For the first episodes of 'A Cook's Tour,' a TV show with an accompanying book of the same name, Bourdain and his future ZPZ team traveled to Japan, Vietnam, Cambodia, and Thailand.

Tenaglia: Japan was a f**king disaster.

Chris Collins (co-founder, ZPZ): The mistakes were very clear. He did not engage with us. He would not acknowledge our presence and that we were there working together.

Tenaglia: I think he was thinking, "Great! I just got a free ride to all these countries."

Collins: It was a ruse. It was, I'm gonna double dip here. I'm going to be able to get paid to go make something, and I'm going to write articles.

Tenaglia: We would go back to the hotel and say, "We are so screwed."

Collins: We shot in Japan for probably nine days. And Tony said, "Listen, I gotta fly back to New York. I always cook dinner for my wife's family, Christmas dinner." [Bourdain and his first wife, former high school sweetheart Nancy Putkoski, divorced in 2005.] I'm like, "You gotta fly home?"

Tenaglia: Part of us thought that he may never come back. [He did.] Then we flew to Vietnam. Suddenly he looked around and he had this instant cultural touchstone. His idea of Vietnam, Japan, and Hong Kong all emanated out of literary and film references. And of course he was a voracious reader, one of those just preternaturally gifted people that could absorb what he had read and retain it. He wanted to connect what he had read with the actual experience of that in a very romantic way.

Collins: He started drinking it in, and something inherently changed in that guy. There was something...the smell, the colors...something twisted in his head the right way. It really sounds crazy, but it was "Okay, we've got something."

Tenaglia: He felt it, too. He came alive, because those frames of reference were starting to pop. His sudden inclination was to turn and share that with us. You could sense this excitement, like, "Holy crap, I'm actually on the ground in a location that I have studied, that I know, that I have references to." You know, Apocalypse Now, Heart of Darkness, Graham Greene, the Vietnam War. He was percolating with an excitement that was very genuine.

Collins: It was like a light switch coming on.

Tenaglia: [Before that] he was the guy with the camera around his neck. No, seriously. He went everywhere with his frigging camera, and we'd have to pull it off his neck. He was a tourist! One time, we went to the home of this duck farmer in Vietnam…

Collins: This was unbelievable.... So what they do is duck, wrapped in clay, onto a f**king smoldering fire to cook. Clay hardens, the duck cooks, you crack it open, and you've got duck. So they choked off the duck and wrapped it in the clay, and they put it on the fire.

Tenaglia: There was a big fire that was burning.

Collins: And they hadn't sufficiently choked off the duck! The duck came back to life. So it's broken through loose clay, now the feathers are smoking, and we're all...What do you do? They got the duck back in the proper condition to cook it, and then a 32-ounce Fanta bottle filled with some sort of translucent liquid is brought out.... It was grain alcohol. I mean, you could have cleaned a wound with that.

Tenaglia: The booze, moonshine.

Collins: And it commences.

a group of people sitting on a rock: Anthony Bourdain as a guest in Oman. © Cable News Network: A Time Warner Company Anthony Bourdain as a guest in Oman.

After the initial success of 'A Cook's Tour,' Food Network demanded more domestic episodes and more beauty shots of barbecue. Bourdain balked. He and ZPZ went to the Travel Channel a year later and rebooted the show as 'Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations’; the show would eventually migrate to CNN as 'Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown.'

Collins: [Travel Channel] gave us an order of three episodes. Paris was our first shoot. Tony and I are standing outside the restaurant we're going to shoot, and at that point I could see he was smoking like three cigarettes simultaneously, so something was amiss. We took a little walk together, and it was just this welling up of this anxiety and insecurity. "Why are we doing this? What are we doing? What have I done?" And I'm like, "Tony, let me tell you what we've done. We've just agreed on a contract to deliver three episodes. So you better walk this off and get your a** in the restaurant, and we're gonna go to work." People's idea of Tony is formed after 20 years of watching him on television, and there's a sense of like "This guy is the un-muscled James Bond." In fact, he was actually a shy man.

Gabrielle Hamilton (owner and chef, Prune): He was an awkward dude. When he's on, you know, he can perform. And perfectly. But I think he has social anxiety. I know he does. Tony's famously like, "Just don't leave my side. We're about to walk into this room, and there's gonna be 450 people in it. And they're all gonna say hi to me, and can you not be far?"

Eric Ripert (chef, Le Bernardin; Tony's close friend and frequent on-air guest): On camera in Peru, we went to see a shaman. The shaman was explaining what he was going to do, and I was the translator. And I said, "The shaman is gonna put some alcohol in his mouth, and he's gonna purify you by spitting on you." And Tony said, "I don't want to be wet—I don't want anything to do with that." So I translated to the shaman by saying, "Oh, he loves the idea. He's excited about it!" And then Tony went in front of the shaman, and he completely covered Tony with the alcohol.

Daniel Boulud (chef, restaurateur): He wanted to do Lyon. He said, "I want to go to your parents' farm and see [legendary chef] Paul Bocuse and go to your school where you grew up." The problem [was], I drove that car for quite a while. It was basically a piece of fabric, a little thin mat with springs and a tube frame for the seat. It's the cheapest car in France. It has two horsepower.

The car broke down, and we were stuck in the middle of an entrance of a highway, and everybody was screaming at us, because we were closing the traffic during rush hour. It was noon, when the French go home and eat. It was terrible. I felt so bad, and I called my father at home. I said, "Can you come and maybe pick us up or something?"

Ripert: When we went to Sichuan, I knew very well that I was going to suffer with the spices, and he knew, too. He asked me before I went, "Are you okay with that?" And I said, "Yes, I'm gonna be a good sport." Now, I didn't know to which degree I was going to suffer, but it was unbearable. It was so bad that one night I said, "Tony, I can't anymore.… Take me to Hooters."

Next to the hotel was a Hooters. He was like, "You're kidding me." I said, "No, I'm not. I'm not. My stomach is burned, I can't." And he said, "Okay, let's go to Hooters."

And he took all the production, invited everyone. So all the cameramen, everybody, we all went to Hooters in Chengdu in the middle of China. I needed a break. I ordered a burger with a weird name. I needed bread.

Morgan Fallon (director and D.P., ZPZ Productions): Honestly, a lot of times I was so hungry after a scene, I'd just go over and start picking at what was left. And Tony, very lovingly, would refer to us as seagulls.

Josh Homme (frontman, Queens of the Stone Age; composed the theme song for 'Parts Unknown'): He was such a beautiful contagion. He presented such a fascinating doorway to so many other things that aren't within your narrow doorway of what you do. When it was time to write the song for his show, he sent over [Joey Ramone] doing "What a Wonderful World." And I said to him, "Are you sure you want me to do this?" And he just said, "It is a wonderful world. Isn't it?"

Michael Ruhlman (author): There was this woman who was a foodie, but she was a student and she was poor. And she used to go by his restaurant every day. She'd just stand out there, looking in and smelling the smells and thinking about it. One day Tony came out and said, "Hey, I see you here all the time." She said, "Yeah, I can't afford to eat here." He said, "Come in. I'm gonna feed you." And so he fed her a steak and a proper béarnaise sauce while she sat amongst the crowd.

a man sitting on a bench: Filming Parts Unknown in Vietnam. © Cable News Network: A Time Warner Company Filming Parts Unknown in Vietnam.

Between 'No Reservations' and 'Parts Unknown,' Bourdain and the ZPZ team ended up producing 242 episodes. He traveled nearly 275 days out of every year, never stopping, because the mission of the show had grown too important to him and to everyone else involved in making it.

Tom Colicchio (chef, TV host): Anthony took food TV and turned it into something serious. It was about bringing people together around food and trying to get Americans to see someone living in a Middle Eastern country, [that] they weren't terrorists. They were people who live there and had very similar issues to issues we have here, and he was able to do that through food.

Collins: If anything can be said about Tony, he was an unbelievable guest.

Helen Rosner (food correspondent, 'The New Yorker'): I remember sitting across from him at this table at this sort of sticky beer bar and him saying to me, "Helen, it makes a difference if you walk in the door saying, 'I'm going to love it here,' or you walk in the door saying, 'This place is going to suck.' "

Ripert: He never complained about anything. That was something that struck me about Tony. You could be hours in a car, or you could be in freezing weather, or you could be in a room with very unpleasant people, and Tony would not complain, ever.

Matt Goulding (co-founder, Roads & Kingdoms): You could never beat Anthony Bourdain to a meeting. It was impossible. And if you were late to a meeting, you probably wouldn't get a second one. The guy showed up 15, 20 minutes early to everything in his life.

I remember the last time that I saw him was out in L.A., and we were going into Netflix with a show that we were developing with him. We said, "You know what? Let's try to get there 20 minutes early. We've got to beat Bourdain." And so we show up there 22 minutes early into the lobby. Sure enough, there's Tony sitting there with his legs crossed, with his newspaper out and his cup of coffee. And he's like, "Enough, guys, you're never going to beat me."

Nathan Thornburgh (co-founder, Roads & Kingdoms): He traveled incredibly well and efficiently. We just had to make sure he had a lot of Marlboro Reds.

Peter Meehan (co-founder, 'Lucky Peach'): Tony was an excuse to smoke.

Ripert: We were at the French Laundry. The dinner was exceptional, but one of my favorite moments was when they gave Tony a crème brûlée that was infused with Marlboro cigarettes. And I have to say, it was delicious.

Fallon: There was never a show that he was like, "We can just coast through this one. It's not an important show. It's not." It always meant something.

Thornburgh: That guy, he did appreciate a fine thread count.

Goulding: He was a hotel hound. I don't know if you remember, but for the longest time his Instagram stories would only be about his hotel rooms.

Collins: Listen, he deserved it. The guy was on the road a great deal of the year. There were certain shows, it was very clear, like, "I wanna make sure the toilet's got great suction and the thread count on the sheets is four figures."

Tenaglia: We would get his wish list for the next season; there was always this moment of eye-rolling like, "Okay, we're going to Africa, and then we're going to the Caribbean." All right, Caribbean, yes we get it.... There was some calculation going on there.

Fallon: There were folks who wanted to put him at this fancy golf resort near the town of Welch, West Virginia. And they were like, "Tony will be more comfortable there." I was telling them, "No. He's gonna stay in town." It's old, it's run-down, it's not exactly comfortable. You can't drink the tap water there. And Tony showed up there being like, "I love this little hotel!" And he'd just be sitting there on the front porch, screwing around with his phone, kind of absorbing the environment with no one messing with him. And I saw him truly comfortable and happy there.

Collins: Tony was also sorta klutzy.

Tenaglia: Very klutzy.

Meehan: He had an AOL e-mail address.

Paula Froelich (author, journalist): I'll never forget laughing my a** off because he was obsessed with my dog, who's a small dachshund. He'd always walk my dog, and he was so tall and the dog was so long and short, they would look like this movable L.

Collins: It was our first or second Russia shoot. We went out to a decommissioned air-force base where there were two MiGs [jets] sitting on a tarmac that was completely shattered, with weeds coming up. We rig a camera in the cockpit, looking straight up at Tony. Off we go together, and I cannot tell you how exciting it was flying across the [former] Soviet landscape in MiGs, wing-to-wing. And I could see Tony and see the color of his skin changing. He looked like a man that was not going to make it through the flight.

We get to the ground. Tony gets out of his plane. Tony is gray. His skin color was a mess, and we go in and start drinking vodka straight afterwards. He's smoking like there's no tomorrow. So I go out to check the footage from the plane, and the camera was double punched. [It wasn't usable.]

I went back, like, "Tony, we didn't get the footage." He's like, "That's your f**king problem. I'm not going back up there."

a group of people in a room: Anthony Bourdain with comedian W. Kamau Bell in Kenya. © Cable News Network: A Time Warner Company Anthony Bourdain with comedian W. Kamau Bell in Kenya.

In 2016, before the election, President Barack Obama joined Bourdain for an episode shot in Hanoi, Vietnam, a meet-up that was months in the making.

Jake Tapper (chief Washington correspondent, CNN): The Obama White House reached out to me because Obama was going to Kenya, and somebody had the idea of Bourdain joining Obama and going someplace in Kenya with him. But Bourdain couldn't do it. I don't remember why, but he had something, and I just passed it on. To me, I thought that was funny because…what did he have better to do?

Sandy Zweig (executive producer, 'Parts Unknown'): I think that's probably the only time I've seen Tony nervous.

Meehan: I asked him about the Obama hang, because obviously you ask about that. And he said to Obama, "We're both fathers. Can you tell me, is everything going to be okay?" And Obama said, "Yes, Tony. Everything is going to be okay." And he was comforted by that.

Goulding: We went out to El Bulli. Albert and Ferran Adrià, the brothers, hosted us for a big barbecue there on the beach. And Ferran turned to Tony and said, "How far can you keep going? Where else can you go? You can't go to the moon!" And Tony goes, "Really? Why not? I'll go to the moon and make an episode on the moon. I'll go anywhere."

Tower: We were going to CBS. We were walking down the block to go to the studio, and on the other side of the street were some 15 or 20 really loud, professional strikers. Tough guys from New Jersey, screaming and yelling. They saw Tony, and they turned around and went, "Hey, Tony, Tony, Tony!" And he went over and said, "Hey, guys, you know, I'm doing a show, could you just tone it down for about 15 minutes?" "Yeah, Tony, of course, anything for you." Now, who in the world could get a bunch of New York picketers to shut up, other than Tony? They just turned into little, quiet mice instantly. For about an hour.

Jen Agg (chef, author): I got an advance copy of my book to him and didn't expect much, but within a week he'd sent me a beautiful, cover-worthy quote, and I actually cried. I couldn't quite believe he'd done it.

I was very used to being dismissed/ignored/vilified by the men who run my industry, so when he chose to do the opposite, I was very, very touched.

Meehan: He kinda got to a point where he didn't need to do anything, but he still did everything, 'cause the opportunity that he had meant something to him.

Goulding: He [eventually just got] tired of eating. You could see it. Very rarely he said anything more than, "Mmm, that's really good." I said, "You don't talk about food anymore." And he was like, "What do you need me to tell you? You need me to tell you how the acidity plays off of the richness of the cream sauce? And how the crunch helps refresh your palate? Bulls**t. You don't need me."

Off camera, Bourdain still greatly enjoyed cooking, hosting, and gently f**king with loved ones.

Marcus Samuelsson (chef): He took me to this Russian bar [Siberia, a now defunct dive bar located inside a subway station]. This was, like, at two o'clock in the morning. I had my speech and demo the next day. He had his speech and demo the next day, too. He said, "Marcus, you need to get out, because you have to be sober tomorrow, and guess what: I don't. I'm going to do my demo hungover and be fine." I'm completely trashed, and he's laughing. My demo was horrible. I was hungover, and I see Tony and he's just laughing on the stage: "See, I told you."

Ripert: Oh, my God, [that bar] was disgusting. It was dirty. He loved the music, and the music was, in my opinion, horrible.

Doug Quint (co-owner, Big Gay Ice Cream; close family friend): He needed to shut up sometimes. Which I told him.

Tower: There was the time when Tony was supposed to interview me. Tony started asking me questions, and then it turned into about a three-hour monologue about himself. He'd ask a question, but it really wasn't a question, it was an observation. And then I would open my mouth to say something, and he would just then go on with more brilliance.

I kept looking at the director, and she was cracking up and just shrugging. I finally said, "Hey, Tony, are you going to ask me a f**king question or not?"

In 2007, Bourdain married Ottavia Busia. Together they had a daughter, Ariane, now 11 years old. The couple separated in 2016 but never formally divorced.

Collins: A few years ago he was doing a cookbook, and they were testing recipes up at his apartment. So we went up there, and he made a meat loaf that was really horrific. And our daughter was like, "I thought he could cook!" She's 14 now, and after Tony passed away and everyone was putting up their messages outside the restaurant, she went over there by herself, and she wrote a note. And on that note she wrote, "I really didn't enjoy your meat loaf, but the pancakes you made were fantastic."

Quint: You know, at his house especially, he just loved grilling giant slabs of meat. But the first time I ate with him, I was at his house, and he'd prepared pigs in a blanket. Hebrew National pigs in a blanket. That was dinner. From a box. They were horrible. And they were burned. It was pre-emptive. He was like, "I cooked food, but I hope you don't expect much," and then he threw those at us as a joke.

He used to leave the gas stove on. I remember a sign painted over it that Ottavia put up to remind him to turn off the oven or the stove. He would take something off the burner and leave it on.

José Andrés (chef, author): The last two, three years, he was cooking more and more—almost like he was coming back to cooking. He was enjoying cooking again.

Boulud: He was taking pride in doing simple things, even if it was a steak frites. Tony was quite European in a way, in his thinking of cooking. Even French, I would say.

Ripert: When he was renting a house, he was a real chef. You will go to the kitchen, his mise en place was incredible, like something that you see only in fine-dining restaurants. He was so precise with all the ingredients in the different containers that were perfectly placed on the table. He never cooked anything bad for me.

Quint: He's the kind of host like Ina [Garten] or Martha [Stewart], who has Tupperware ready to go at the end of a meal. He made sure there were extras and that you went home with stuff.

Homme: He liked all the bits that were well beyond what I liked. They make tripe out in the desert in these giant cauldrons, for all the guys who pick grapes and citrus. He was like, "Tripe!" I was like, "I can't believe you're excited about tripe." He's like, dad-joking, "It takes guts to love tripe."

Andrés: He never got his scuba-diving permit. I gave him a computer, and he did the course at the same time with my 10-year-old daughter. He had to study to take his scuba-diving diploma. Tony was reading the books and everything, but going through the exam online was a pain in the butt. Well, he passed because my daughter did it for him.

He was an excellent scuba diver. Very calm. You could see that he was very bold. I think under the water he found, always, a lot of peace. No photos, no cameras, no selfies, no people asking him questions. He was just one more guy watching life going by. And that's why he liked scuba so much.

Quint: It was at a rental house out in the Hamptons, and it was the first time I'd ever spent a night with him or anything like that. Their daughter [Ariane] at that time was probably 5. She came and tapped on Ottavia's arm and whispered to her, and Ottavia said, "Oh, she's going to do her song." And I said, "What does that mean?" And Tony said, "Don't ask. Just watch."

Ottavia took her phone and cued up "Call Me Maybe," and Ariane came out from behind the wall and lip-synched and acted the whole thing out. Picking up a phone and fake calling into a phone, and it was just the most f**kin' adorable thing I'd ever seen. I remember looking over at Tony, and he just stared at her with this look on his face like, just he was seeing perfection and couldn't believe it had come out of him, you know? It's exactly what you want to see in a parent's eyes when they look at their kid. I sometimes didn't like Tony, but I always loved Tony, and there was a lot to love when I saw that look come out at her.

Homme: I was saying to him, "I want my daughter to do martial arts and learn to play piano." And he said, "I don't care what she does, as long as she loves it." I thought that was beautiful, because that is the right attitude for parenting. Not to push—to help someone be who they already are and to help someone search hard enough to find who they could be.

Hamilton: That's the thing about friendship with Tony. Tony lavishes you with love and friendship and generosity and kindness, and then he disappears in the night and you don't get to reciprocate. It wasn't mutual. But it was breathtaking to be loved by him.

a man standing in a kitchen preparing food: Anthony Bourdain with chef Eric Ripert in France. © Cable News Network: A Time Warner Company Anthony Bourdain with chef Eric Ripert in France.

Friends also recognized that life wasn't always easy for Bourdain, and that he had his own demons and struggled with the burden of his fame.

Thornburgh: He wasn't out there kicking his heels all the time and saying, "I'm rich and famous." I think he felt the darkness of it, too.

Andrew Zimmern (TV host): We're shooting promos, standing around, both drinking coffees, smoking a cigarette, waiting for the cameras to get set up. And he looks at me, and he says, "Television is such a vile mistress." Then we heard, from 200 yards away, "Action," and we started to walk, and I was paralyzed, like, "What the f**k does he mean by this?"

Andrés: I think Tony always saw himself as a man always on the edge of the good or the bad. It's like a knife. It's a very small edge, a very thin edge, but you have to be careful because you can cut yourself and you'll never know what side of the knife's blade you're going to end up on.

Tenaglia: Chris and I had dinner with him three weeks before he died. We had a really great meal together. I remember he had a big piece of steak, a big fat slice of cheesecake at the end of it. I'm just very, very thankful that we had that moment with him. Because three weeks later, to the day, he was gone.

On June 8, 2018, Eric Ripert discovered Bourdain dead by suicide in the bathroom of a French hotel. Ripert declined to discuss Bourdain's final days for this story. Actor and director Asia Argento, with whom Bourdain was involved at the time of his death, politely declined to participate altogether. The wounds remain fresh and deep, but those closest to Bourdain appear to have absorbed an awful lot from him about how life ought to be lived.

Quint: I heard my phone going off in the middle of the night, and it was a text from Ottavia saying, "He's killed himself, and I wanted you to know before the news came out." I [drove] to O'Hare and went to their house. The whole morning, I was sitting head down, making sure I didn't look at the TV. It's just so f**kin' lousy. It feels like you're speeding into a black hole.

Tenaglia: I don't think it was a shock that one day we would get a call. It was like, "Okay. Maybe we should prepare ourselves that one day Tony's either gotten into a plane crash, or flipped on an ATV, had a heart attack."

Collins: Not expecting, but you acknowledge that it could happen.

Tenaglia: But we didn't expect that call. It's like someone's just hit you with a giant f**king frying pan.

Meehan: It was hard to understand because he was really good at being a person.

Rosner: He was the center of so many ecosystems.

John Birdsall (writer): He didn't speak as if he had power, which was the great thing.

Lajaunie: I was on a trip in the north of Vietnam, on the Ho Chi Minh Trail. I stopped in this little village, exactly the kind of place where Tony and I would have stopped on the way. I heard my phone ding, with news, and I learned from the A.P. or Reuters that he had just killed himself. It could not have been a better place, and it could not have been a worse place. It was exactly the place we would have been together. And so it was eerie.

Homme: There's a [New Yorker article called "Jumpers"], about people who jump off the Golden Gate Bridge. And all the survivors say the exact same thing, that as soon as their fingers left that bridge, they were like, Stop, wait, if I could just take that back…. I think with two more seconds, it wouldn't be this way.

Quint: That day, Ariane said to me something like, "Is this something that people outside of New York are gonna know about?" And we were like, "Yeah. All around the world, people are sad about this." Telling her that made me realize, Jesus, God, this is world news. He changed lives around the world.

Froelich: I just think it's lonelier without him in the world.

Bourdain: I have in my possession the notes that people put up on Les Halles. I have them at the house. There was one woman who drove up from f**king Tennessee. Some dude took the back of an envelope to find some blank white space to write on, and he stuck it onto the glass at Les Halles with a Band-Aid. He wrote this personal, heartfelt little thing and then stuck it on with a f**king Band-Aid.

Fred Morin (co-owner, Joe Beef): I decided to put the bottle down. About 73 days.

Fallon: I've stopped drinking as a part of this whole thing, too.

Lajaunie: I'm moving to Vietnam. I think it's time for me to do it.

Zweig: I just assumed that we would finish [the show]. It just seemed wrong not to. It's his life's work. Why not take the material that we have and make the most of it?

Tenaglia: There has not really been a moment to actually sit and try to fully process the fact that he's gone. The producers and the editors were left in the aftermath to deal with all the footage for the five, six, seven shows of Parts Unknown we have to present. I know this one longtime director-editor, Nick Brigden, said it so beautifully: It dawns [on] you...I'm not going to [get his] feedback. But then at the same time, I know exactly what that feedback would be. Through all these years of working with him, through osmosis, we have the same creative force and integrity as that guy. Whether he was alive or not here, we have all ingested it. And we're trying to move forward with it.

Goulding: The one common thing you hear from everyone is "Why does this hurt so much? I didn't know the guy." Yes, you did know the guy. You shared 100 meals with him, if not more. He shared 1,000 meals with the world. He did that year after year, episode after episode. So to not be able to do that anymore, I think is a big hit for all of us. From President Obama down to your friggin' mailman, everyone feels that loss.

Boulud: When Tony passed away, I suddenly watched a lot on CNN to see all these retrospectives on him, because I needed to feel connected. But I haven't looked at the episode we did in Lyon since Tony passed. I want to do that in a moment where I can relax and enjoy and watch it maybe with my family in France. That would be nice.

Hamilton: I have a very, very, very, very tender, fond moment of saying goodbye to Tony in L.A. I had to leave, and he was napping on his couch in his trailer, sleeping with his arms across his chest. No blanket. Shoes on. And me going in and just touching him on the arm and saying, "I'm leaving, thank you," and going back to the airport. Just a brief kiss-on-the-cheek kind of goodbye.

Fallon: People have said to me, "Well, you probably don't wanna talk about that." I feel exactly the opposite. I want to talk about Tony. I want to make sure that people understand and know that that was the real deal, man. That was a singular, brilliant, magnificent human being.

Thornburgh: My wife's father's family is from Japan, so we went and did a month in Japan a few years back. We were at the last soba shop in Hokkaido, the northern island of Japan, a place you walk over wood planks over a pond to get to. It just felt like the edge of the earth. My kid, who must've been like 7 at the time or something, he taps me on the shoulder, and he's like, "Dad, it's your friend." I'm like, "What are you talking about?"

I turn around and, of course, because it's this planet we all share, there's a picture of f**king Tony shaking hands with the soba master in that noodle shop. You cannot go find something that he hadn't done or where he hasn't gripped and grinned. The end of the earth. "Daddy...there's your friend."

Drew Magary is a GQ correspondent.

A version of this story originally appeared in the December 2018/January 2019 issue with the title "The Last Curious Man."


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