Anthony Bourdain's Death Sparks Addiction, Mental Health Conversation

By David Konow 06/12/18

The unexpected passing of the beloved chef has reignited a crucial conversation in the culinary world.

Anthony Bourdain
Photo via YouTube

The tragic death of Anthony Bourdain on June 8 by suicide was a tremendous shock to his fans as well as his culinary peers. Bourdain was called the “original rock star of the culinary world,” and unbeknownst to many, it’s a world where many struggle with mental health issues and addiction.

Bourdain’s death is putting the spotlight back on the these underlying issues in the culinary world, and how even superstar chefs can be impacted.

As Mickey Bakst, the general manager of the top-rated restaurant Charleston Grill, told BuzzFeed, “The more vocal people are, the better. Many people need to see that there are others who can be successful, still be part of the industry, and be sober. It’s an important thing for people in our industry to know.”

Bakst has been sober for 35 years and he is also the cofounder of a support group for people in the culinary world who are in recovery called Ben’s Friends. He added, “Alcoholism and drug addiction are here to stay. They’re not going anywhere, and the only way that we can start addressing this is a more open, regular discussion of it. That’s what Anthony Bourdain helped do.”

And indeed, Bourdain was honest about his struggles with addiction and his mental health, and now his passing has made him an even stronger example for people to get help.

As Dr. Stephannee Standefer, who runs a masters program in counseling at Northwestern University, says, “We take a look at folks who are very aware of their mental health issues and concerns, and who are just a couple of life events away from suicide. He’s someone I used as an example of how well he articulated his awareness of his mental health.”

While Standefer used Bourdain as an example to encourage others to get help, she adds, “There’s a tendency to assume because he is who he is and he’s said he’s conquered it that he’s fine.

"The truth is, there’s a chemical imbalance in your brain, or it’s hereditary like Bourdain talked about. Depression, addiction, the potential to have suicidal ideation or to have symptoms are a lifelong issue.”

Another support group for people in the culinary world, the Heirloom Foundation, was created when cofounder Sarah Ory lost three of her culinary industry friends to suicide in an 18-month period.

She applauded Bourdain’s openness when he was alive, telling BuzzFeed, “What Anthony Bourdain did when he told everyone about his struggles with addiction and other mental health issues is make them feel that they could too.”

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In addition to contributing for The Fix, David Konow has also written for Esquire, Deadline, LA Weekly, Village Voice, The Wrap, and many other publications and websites. He is also the author of the three decade history of heavy metal, Bang Your Head (Three Rivers Press), and the horror film history Reel Terror (St Martins Press). Find David on LinkedIn and Facebook.