In one of his last interviews, the late chef railed against people who abused and shamed women. For that, we should always remember him.
In June, the American chef, travel documentarian and television presenter Anthony Bourdain killed himself. The news of his death sent shockwaves around the world, not least because the 61-year-old had had such a vibrant and bullish presence in life. It seemed incomprehensible to many that a man with such force of personality would want to end what seemed, to outsiders, like a wonderful life – despite the fact that he had spoken about his mental health struggles and suicidal thoughts in the past. But that’s one of the terrible things about suicide: its motives are often unfathomable to those who have never experienced thoughts of killing themselves.
For many, Bourdain’s death felt like a terrible blow not just because of his status as a celebrity chef, but also because of his fearlessness when it came to speaking out about social and political issues. In the months leading up to his suicide, Bourdain had become an outspoken, often fiery advocate for the #MeToo movement, standing publicly with women who accused his fellow male chefs of sexual assault and harassment. His girlfriend Asia Argento might have been one of the first women to accuse Harvey Weinstein of rape, but Bourdain’s anger at abusive men and backing of survivors never seemed like it was coming solely from the perspective of a protective boyfriend. It felt as though he was really listening to what women had to say.
“In these current circumstances, one must pick a side. I stand unhesitatingly and unwaveringly with the women,” Bourdain wrote in a Medium essay in December 2017. He added that “right now, nothing else matters but women’s stories”.
On 15 July, one of the final interviews Bourdain gave before his death was published posthumously by news and culture website Popula. In the interview, Bourdain discussed issues as disparate as the Monica Lewinsky scandal, the Trump administration (which he loathed) and the New York Times opinion section. He seemed angry about a lot of things, that’s for sure, and was characteristically controversial. But he also showed that when the chips were down, his instinct was to support women who had been abused, shunned or shamed.
The Lewinsky scandal – which saw the then-22-year-old Monica Lewinsky torn to shreds by the media after she was outed as having had an affair with then-President Bill Clinton – was “f***ing monstrous,” Bourdain said. “That would not have flown today.”
In the wake of the #MeToo movement and the allegations of sexual misconduct made against Donald Trump, many people have started to view the Lewinsky scandal through a different lens. Slowly, it has begun to be seen as a story about a powerful man abusing that power, rather than a cautionary tale about a young female homewrecker. Bourdain, for his part, described Clinton as “entitled, rapey, gropey, grabby [and] disgusting”, and went on to criticise both Bill and Hillary for shutting down the sexual misconduct allegations made against Bill by three women in the Nineties.
“How you can on the one hand howl at the moon about all these other predators [and] not at least look back?” he asked. A Democratic voter himself, he added that while Bill is “f***ing magnetic” and Hillary is “really warm and nice and funny”, he believed the Clintons’ “shaming, discrediting [and] undermining the women” should have “made both of them unsuitable for any future endeavours”.
Bourdain also defended Rose McGowan, who – along with Argento – has been one of the most prominent voices speaking out against Weinstein.
“I had dinner with Rose McGowan, and Rose is telling me you know, these people are spying on me, people are saying they’re my friends and they’re in fact not my friends, they’re paid intelligence operatives,” he said. “I remember thinking look, I support you all the way, but in the back of my head I’m thinking, I dunno, I’m not so sure about this.”
However, Bourdain later learned – via a New Yorker investigation – that McGowan’s claims were all true. “There are forces out there who are really f***ing powerful and scary,” he said.
Discussing Weinstein, Bourdain said he believed that the only way to stop men behaving like him was to make their behaviour socially unacceptable – not just illegal. “However much people might want to see Harvey Weinstein dead or in jail, he’s in f***ing Arizona. He is in Arizona, eating in restaurants in Arizona.”
Ultimately, the most poignant moment of the interview came when Bourdain dismissed the idea that he was any kind of hero for standing with the women of the #MeToo movement.
“No, really and truly not at all,” he said. “I’m just a guy who saw what his girlfriend and her friends uh… you know. I saw a lot.”
Bourdain did see a lot – and when he saw something he thought was unjust, he spoke out about it. His uncensored rage might make for salacious headlines and, at times, uncomfortable reading, but what lay beneath it was an unflinching determination to trust women and to take them at their word.
In a world where women’s stories of sexual assault and harassment are too often mocked and disbelieved – and where, horrifically, his own girlfriend has been publicly blamed for his suicide – we should always remember him for that.
If you or someone you know is suffering with depression or suicidal thoughts, you can access advice and support at Samaritans.
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