When Anthony Bourdain killed himself in 2018, the the culinary world lost one of its greatest champions and intriguing personalities. And since then—from books to a feature-length documentary—people have been trying to pull back the layers on the chef-turned-TV host to perhaps better understand why he ended his own life.
A new biography of Bourdain attempts to answer that question, by detailing his final days as well as the trajectory of his personal life and career. Down and Out in Paradise: The Life of Anthony Bourdain, by the journalist Charles Leerhsen, retraces Bourdain’s life through more than 80 interviews and files, texts and emails from Bourdain’s own phone and laptop. It’s an unauthorized attempt to make sense of Bourdain, and it’s already drawn criticism from some of the people who were closest to him.
“Every single thing he writes about relationships and interactions within our family as kids and as adults he fabricated or got totally wrong,” Christopher Bourdain, Anthony Bourdain’s brother, told The New York Times. However, Simon & Schuster has stood by the book, and plans to release it on October 11.
In his account, Leerhsen focuses heavily on Anthony Bourdain’s relationship with Asia Argento, whom he dated for about two years. The book delves into their tumultuous, up-and-down romance, and posits it as a possible factor that contributed to Bourdain’s suicide. At the time of his death, the two were fighting and Argento had recently told Bourdain that she couldn’t stay in their relationship. In Leerhsen’s account, pursuing her had become an emotional ordeal for Bourdain, turning him into someone he didn’t like. (Argento told the Times that she wrote to Leerhsen, saying he couldn’t publish anything she said to him.)
“I think at the very end, in the last days and hours, he realized what he had become,” Leerhsen told the Times. “I don’t respect him killing himself, but he did realize and he did ultimately know he didn’t want to be that person he had become.”
Several people in Bourdain’s inner circle refused to talk with Leerhsen for the book, yet he was able to track down very personal, intimate details of the chef. It makes for the sort of gripping tell-all that readers will likely devour. Yet it also paints a picture of Bourdain that those closest to him are loathe to have displayed publicly, and that they don’t believe tells the whole story.