Anthony Bourdain Once Struggled With Addiction, and His Comments About It Are Revealing

The world is still reeling from the news of Anthony Bourdain’s sudden death by suicide on June 8, 2018. But before he became the famous sharp-tongued foodie we came to love, he was an opioid addict in his 20s. And since he was always candid about it in his interviews, the public was able to get a glimpse of how bad it was and how tough the addiction was to overcome.

Bourdain’s heart-wrenching comments about addiction are not easy to read, but they’re very telling.

He claims his addiction should have killed him in his 20s

Anthony Bourdain being interviewed on a red carpet.

Chef Anthony Bourdain had a dark past. | Mike Coppola/Getty Images

Bourdain was quick to call out anyone who said he had a “charmed” life. In a 2016 interview with Biography, he said:

“I don’t know about ‘charmed.’ But I’m still here — on my third life, or maybe fourth. Who knows? I should’ve died in my 20s.”  He added, “I became successful in my 40s. I became a dad in my 50s. I feel like I’ve stolen a car — a really nice car — and I keep looking in the rearview mirror for flashing lights. But there’s been nothing yet.”

Next: Drugs came into his life at an early age. 

His drug use started in high school

Anthony Bourdain holding up a book.

He had started using drugs as a teen. | Dylan Rives/Getty Images for Food Network SoBe Wine & Food Festival

It seems like such a wholesome story: Bourdain married his high school sweetheart, Nancy Putkoski, and they remained husband and wife for 20 years. But Putkoski ran with a wild crowd back in her high school days, and it was that crowd that first introduced Bourdain to drugs.

Bourdain admitted he and Nancy had a “kind of love and codependency and sense of adventure – we were criminals together. A lot of our life was built around that, and happily so.” He said much of their life involved drugs, but they also enjoyed a pretty quiet marriage at times. They split in 2005 due to Bourdain’s extensive travel schedule, but by then both of them had stopped using opioids.

Next: This wasn’t the first time Bourdain was suicidal.

He felt depressed (and even suicidal) when his marriage ended

Anthony Bourdain speaking in front of a podium on stage.

He had gone through some tough times. | Theo Wargo/Getty Images

Bourdain went through two divorces, but he was a lot more open about the ending of his first marriage — and it was brutal. Although the divorce was amicable, Bourdain was incredibly depressed, and “aimless and regularly suicidal,” in his own words. He recounted getting drunk and stoned — “the kind of drunk where you’ve got to put a hand over one eye to see straight” — and said he would “peel out” in his 4×4 on his way back from nightly trips to the brothels.

Next: Opioid addictions are nearly impossible to beat, but Bourdain managed.

On beating his addiction

Antony Bourdain on a red carpet.

Antony Bourdain was well-respected and loved by fans. | Jerod Harris/Getty Images for WIRED

Bourdain admitted to using many drugs over the years, but heroin was the hardest for him to kick (which is pretty typical). He developed a seven year addiction in the 1980s, and when he decided it was time to quit, he took a unique approach: Withdrawal. He said whenever withdrawal symptoms appeared, he “felt pride,” because that meant that it was working. And although he later struggled with a cocaine addiction, he never returned to heroin.

Of course, typically recovering from such an addiction requires professional treatment and a lot more than sheer will. Bourdain was lucky to have beaten it, which he said himself:

“Friends of mine from the ‘70s and ‘80s, they just got off five, six, maybe 10 years ago. And we’re the lucky ones. We made it out alive.”

Next: Bourdain has admitted he wasn’t a nice person when he was on drugs.

His drug use changed him

Anthony Bourdain sitting on stage during an interview.

Anthony Bourdain’s drug use changed his entire life. | Craig Barritt/Getty Images for The New Yorker

In his 2000 book, Kitchen Confidential, Bourdain wrote candidly about his drug use. Some of his favorites, other than heroin, included:

  • Marijuana
  • Cocaine
  • Quaaludes
  • LSD
  • Psilocybin mushrooms
  • Speed

“We were high all the time, sneaking off to the walk-in at every opportunity to ‘conceptualize.’ Hardly a decision was made without drugs,” Bourdain wrote. He’s also admitted he wasn’t a very nice person when he was using.

“I was an unhappy soul with a huge heroin and then crack problem,” Bourdain told The Guardian in 2017. “I hurt, disappointed, and offended many, many, many people and I regret a lot. It’s a shame I have to live with.”

Next: He was sober from drugs, but not from everything.

Bourdain still drank (and probably smoked pot)

A closeup of Anthony Bourdain at an event.

Although he slowed down on certain drugs, he did drink alcohol occasionally. | Neilson Barnard/Getty Images

For most addicts, making a clean recovery means abstaining from all substances, even the ones they didn’t have a problem with. While Bourdain became drug-free around 1990, he drank alcohol until his death.

“Most people who kick heroin and cocaine have to give up on everything,” Bourdain wrote in his first book. “Maybe because my experiences were so awful in the end, I’ve never been tempted to relapse. You see me drink myself stupid on my show all the time. And I have a lot of fun doing that. But I’m not sitting at home having a cocktail. Never, ever. I don’t ever drink in my house … When I indulge, I indulge. But I don’t let it bleed over into the rest of my life.”

There were also rumors that Bourdain occasionally enjoyed smoking marijuana. When asked on Reddit if he “hated” Amsterdam, he responded that the city “may not be the first place I think of as a food destination but I liked it fine! #420.”

Next: For as open as he was about addiction, he was closed off about something else.

He tried to hide his depression more than his addiction

Anthony Bourdain sitting on stage and smiling.

The chef and writer had an interesting way of looking back at his life. | Frederick M. Brown/Getty Images

Bourdain may have been open and upfront about his drug use, but he was much more closed off when it came to his depression. He admitted to going through periods of it, especially when he was going through his first divorce, but he also downplayed it quite a bit. This quote from 2016 speaks volumes:

“I’m not going to get a lot of sympathy from people, frankly,” he said on an episode of Parts Unknown. “I mean, I have the best job in the world, let’s face it. I go anywhere I want, I do what I want. That guy over there loading sausages onto the grill, that’s work. This is not so bad. It’s alright. I’ll make it.”

Clearly, Bourdain suffered privately, and just how much we’ll never truly know.

How to get help: In the U.S., call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-8255. Or text HOME to 741-741 to connect with a trained crisis counselor at the free Crisis Text Line.

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