The Last, Painful Days of Anthony Bourdain

After Anthony Bourdain took his own life in a French hotel room in 2018, his close friends, family and the people who for decades had helped him become an international TV star closed ranks against the swarm of media inquiries and stayed largely silent, especially about his final days.

That silence continued until 2021, when many in his inner circle were interviewed for the documentary “Roadrunner: A Film About Anthony Bourdain” and for “Bourdain: The Definitive Oral Biography.” The two works showed a more complex side of Mr. Bourdain, who had become increasingly conflicted about his success and had in his last two years made his relationship with the Italian actor Asia Argento his primary focus. But neither directly addressed how very messy his life had become in the months that led up to the night he hanged himself at age 61.

On Oct. 11, Simon & Schuster will publish what it calls the first unauthorized biography of the writer and travel documentarian. “Down and Out in Paradise: The Life of Anthony Bourdain” is filled with fresh, intimate details, including raw, anguished texts from the days before Mr. Bourdain’s death, such as his final exchanges with Ms. Argento and Ottavia Busia-Bourdain, his wife of 11 years who, by the time they separated in 2016, had become his confidante.

“I hate my fans, too. I hate being famous. I hate my job,” Mr. Bourdain wrote to Ms. Busia-Bourdain in one of their near-daily text exchanges. “I am lonely and living in constant uncertainty.”
Drawing on more than 80 interviews, and files, texts and emails from Mr. Bourdain’s phone and laptop, the journalist Charles Leerhsen traces Mr. Bourdain’s metamorphosis from a sullen teenager in a New Jersey suburb that his family couldn’t afford to a heroin-shooting kitchen swashbuckler who struck gold as a writer and became a uniquely talented interpreter of the world through his travels.
Mr. Leerhsen said in an interview that he wanted to write a book without the dutiful sheen of what he called “an official Bourdain product.” Indeed, he portrays a man who at the end of his life was isolated, injecting steroids, drinking to the point of blackout and visiting prostitutes, and had all but vanished from his 11-year-old daughter’s life.

“We never had that big story, that long piece that said what happened, how the guy with the best job in the world took his own life,” said Mr. Leerhsen, a former executive editor at Sports Illustrated and People who has written books on Ty Cobb, Butch Cassidy and a racehorse named Dan Patch.

The book has already drawn fire from Mr. Bourdain’s family, former co-workers and closest friends. His brother, Christopher Bourdain, sent Simon & Schuster two emails in August calling the book hurtful and defamatory fiction, and demanding that it not be released until Mr. Leerhsen’s many errors were corrected.

“Every single thing he writes about relationships and interactions within our family as kids and as adults he fabricated or got totally wrong,” he said in an interview.

Felice Javit, vice president and senior counsel for the publisher, responded to Christopher Bourdain with an email: “With all due respect, we disagree that the material in the Book contains defamatory information, and we stand by our forthcoming publication.”

Mr. Leerhsen said Mr. Bourdain’s inner circle and even some of his international fixers and former line cooks refused to speak with him for the biography, in part because Mr. Bourdain’s longtime agent, Kim Witherspoon, told them not to. Ms. Witherspoon did not respond to a request for an interview for this article. Laurie Woolever, Mr. Bourdain’s assistant, declined to speak about the book.
Mr. Leerhsen said that such resistance from the Bourdain camp helped open other doors for him. “A lot of people were willing to talk to me because they were left behind by Tony and by the Tony train,” he said, adding that some were moved to speak by their anger over the damage Mr. Bourdain had done to his daughter.

One person close to Mr. Bourdain who hasn’t pushed back against the book is his wife, Ms. Busia-Bourdain, who controls his estate. The book’s most revealing material comes from files and messages pulled from Mr. Bourdain’s phone and laptop, both of which are part of the estate.
Mr. Leerhsen said he got that material from a confidential source, but added that “the estate has not objected, and I don’t anticipate any objections.” He wouldn’t say whether he interviewed Ms. Busia-Bourdain, but she is quoted in parts of the book. She said through a friend that she would not comment for this story.

The chef Eric Ripert, a close friend who found Mr. Bourdain dead in his Alsatian hotel room after a day of shooting for an episode of his CNN show, “Parts Unknown,” said he did not provide information for the book, though he has read it. He said he found many inaccuracies, but was surprised that it contained intimate details from those days in France that he had told only to a few people.

In his research, Mr. Leerhsen traced Mr. Bourdain’s travels with trips to Montreal, Japan and France, where he and his wife talked their way into staying in the same room where Mr. Bourdain died, in the Le Chambard boutique hotel in the tiny village of Kaysersberg.
The book starts with Mr. Bourdain’s early years, analyzing his parents’ marriage, his performance in school and his relationship with his first wife, Nancy Putkoski, who Mr. Leerhsen said was a helpful source.

Mr. Bourdain graduated from high school a year early so he could follow her to Vassar College. His grades there were terrible, and he was happier during the summers he worked in restaurants in Provincetown, Mass. After two years, he enrolled in the Culinary Institute of America, five miles north of Vassar in Hyde Park, N.Y.

The book traces Mr. Bourdain’s career in New York restaurants, and his relationships with the intimidating chefs who molded him. It includes the well-known tale of how his mother, Gladys Bourdain, then an editor at The New York Times, handed an article he had written about the ugly secrets of a Manhattan restaurant to Esther B. Fein, the wife of the New Yorker editor David Remnick, who ran it in the magazine.

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