Anthony Bourdain was a passionate man who lived life fully until his death by suicide on June 8, 2018. We may never know fully the demons that haunted him, but we can know some of the thoughts that consumed his mind in the months prior, as revealed in a sprawling interview published Sunday.
The interview, for new website Popula, was conducted over two-and-a-half hours in February 2018. What started as a tight interview about American exceptionalism expanded into a meaningful discussion on a myriad of topics, including Harvey Weinstein and the #MeToo movement, the Clinton legacy, the 2016 election, the Trump Administration, the Mueller investigation and more.
As you might expect from the "Parts Unknown" host, a world traveler who has broken bread with people from all walks of life across the globe, his opinions are passionate, informed and well presented. Before his death, he was an outspoken advocate against sexual harassment, exposing celebrity chefs like Mario Batali, and defending his partner Asia Argento as she became one of the "Silence Breakers," with personal allegations of her own against Weinstein.
While Weinstein has now been indicted on multiple charges of sexual assault, for which he maintains his innocence, at the time of this interview, he was still living in self-imposed exile. "However much people might want to see Harvey Weinstein dead or in jail, he's in f--king Arizona," Weinstein said of the disgraced movie mogul. "He is in Arizona, eating in restaurants in Arizona.
"And at off the grid restaurants in Arizona, so he can't even eat at the best sushi restaurant in Scottsdale. He's gotta go to some shit f--king place. So Arizona, I mean, as much as I'd like to see him, you know beaten to death in his cell--"
Bourdain left the thought unfinished, but for someone who has eaten some of the finest foods from around the world, this may be one of the worst punishments imaginable. "It's much better to watch horrible people live and suffer the consequences."
He did, however, imagine an untimely death for Weinstein, a preoccupation with death that the interview posthumously noted permeates much of his work.
"My theory of how he goes is uh, he's brushing his teeth in a bathroom, he's naked in his famous bathrobe, which is flapping open, he's holding his cell phone in one hand because you never know who on the Weinstein board has betrayed him recently, and he's brushing his teeth--he suddenly gets a massive fucking stroke--he stumbles backwards into the bathtub, where he finds himself um, with his robe open feet sticking out of the tub, and in his last moments of consciousness as he scrolls through his contacts list trying to figure out who he can call, who will actually answer the phone.
"And he dies that way, knowing that no one will help him and that he is not looking his finest at time of death."
Bourdain quickly emerged as one of the strongest male voices in the post-Weinstein #MeToo era, in part because of his girlfriend's allegations against Weinstein. In the wake of the sweeping movement, there is still an uncertainty about what is appropriate, what is inappropriate and how a "safe workplace" is defined. Is there a concern about over-correcting and going almost Victorian in our response?
"Asia feels very strongly that you know, a Puritanical or Victorian focus would be a monstrous outcome," he said. "It's really tough finding the middle ground here."
He did postulate why some of the powerful figures in his own industry might have begun to abuse that power, as a way to perhaps begin to understand what needs to be addressed in moving forward. "All of the really bastard chefs, most the really oppressive ones, the old school ones, were abused children ... and then became just like their abuser, and would perpetuate the system," he said. "For most of my career, chefs were creatures without power. To talk about power imbalance, in retrospect, there was one. But I think we all saw ourselves at outcasts, as weak, except in our little bubble in the kitchen."
The interview was conducted prior to Bill Clinton's problematic non-apology over the Monica Lewinsky scandal, but Bourdain still had some very strong opinions on the matter. "The bimbo eruptions; it was f--king monstrous," Bourdain said. "That would not have flown today. A piece of shit. Entitled, rapey, gropey, grabby, disgusting."
Even worse for Bourdain, though, was the way, as he saw it, that Bill and Hillary both "shamelessly discredited these women for speaking their truth."
"How you can on the one hand howl at the moon about all these other predators, and not at least look back?" he asked.
He was equally unimpressed with Hillary Clinton's response to her coziness with Weinstein in the immediate aftermath of his fall. "When I sat there with Asia, as she texted her sisters ... watching the Clinton apology on Weinstein, there was a lot of anticipation," Bourdain said. "People were really hoping she'd come out with a-- I don't know. Let's just say with something different."
It took five days after the first allegations for Clinton to release a statement, in which she said she was "shocked and appalled by the revelations." What it did not do was address her relationship with Weinstein or his donations to campaign. Perhaps even more alarming for Bourdain, though, was how his tweeted response was immediately twisted into something he found unrecognizable.
know what Hillary Clinton is NOT? She's not stupid. Or unsophisticated about the world. The Weinstein stories had been out there for years
"I was really disappointed with the statement. But even by expressing that, the way that my comment was turned, very neatly--suddenly I wasn't expressing disappointment in her statement; I was blaming her for Harvey Weinstein's crimes," He noted. "The way that turned very nicely was a good bit of artistry and deeply frightening to me."
As Donald Trump rolls on, seemingly impervious to any scandal, Bourdain realized that what the Mueller investigation and Trump opposition needs is a "Joseph Walsh moment." He explained, "The guy who-- that moment in the McCarthy trials? "Have you no decency, sir?"--THAT moment! That moment! Nobody is even capable of or willing to have that moment."
According to Bourdain, it would take someone willing to stand up against their own personal interests and fight for what's right. "Somebody at the White House press briefing has to sacrifice their job and say: You utter piece of shit! Do you really expect us to swallow that steaming load of horseshit? How do you live with yourself? You should be ashamed.
"Give me one guy to throw themselves on a fire like that, lose access, lose the gig at the White House, for that infinitely repeatable meme. Give me that. Just give me that. Someone to stand up."
Of course, that hasn't happened yet, but that doesn't mean it won't. The Mueller investigation is ongoing, and while Bourdain has missed the latest twists and turns, he did comment on the Russian indictments that occurred in February, speculating on where this might lead for Trump. "It makes it so much more difficult for Trump to fire [Rod] Rosenstein or [Robert] Mueller, now that you've shown, in a not offensive way: Nobody's accusing you of anything!"
That doesn't mean he thinks Trump will simply work out his full term and move on with his life, though. "I think Trump's going down for the money," Bourdain said. "Collusion is tricky to prove, it's the money. And once they get too close, in my view he will declare victory, congratulate himself on the fantastic job he's done and resign, saying the job is too small for him. Just what he did in Atlantic City! I got mine, big success for me, and leave behind a shambles."
But while he may think Trump is a walking disaster and bad for the country, his time among people from all socioeconomic backgrounds has made him empathize with and understand his rise to power, specifically referencing the people of West Virginia, where he'd recently spent some time. This is where Trump promised more jobs in coal.
"Anybody who cannot understand how important even the promise of a slight increase in the number of coal jobs is, how important that is to their cellular tissue, their self-image, everything ... How grotesque it is, for people to bigfoot in and say we're all going to move you into solar," he said.
"The contempt and the ridicule which has been heaped on places like West Virginia, which is the heart, demographically, of enemy territory, as far as New York liberals like us are concerned. If we cannot-- This is something we fucked up in the Sixties. We were fighting against cops and construction workers, cops and construction workers were exactly who we f--king needed! They were the first to die, in Vietnam. We weren't gonna!"
He said it's easy for the media elites on the coasts to denigrate the blue-collar workers of the Heartland, but "they're not foolish. They recognize an anarchist," Bourdain said. "They recognize somebody who is likely to pull down the whole rotten temple that they despise so deeply that they will repeatedly shoot themselves in both feet for the pleasure of seeing all of these craven scumsucking pig-dogs who betrayed them year after year and let them down and mocked them."
As Bourdain sees it, there is a bitterness in these communities for how the country has turned its back on this segment of its own population, and it has bred contempt. Perhaps Trump is their response to the rest of the United States. Burn it all down and let's build something new. These are people who work with their hands. They take pride in the things they build. They're ready.
"This is a time when commonly accepted facts are routinely rejected, instinctively rejected, deliberately falsified, deleted," Bourdain said of the modern news and political landscape. "All the data from Antarctica. Anything to do with climate change is under threat. And people choose, and I expect in the future, will increasingly choose, their preferred reality."
As people reject scientifically-backed reality under clarion calls of "fake news," what role does the truth even play anymore? "I hope the truth matters. More rather than less," Bourdain said. "I suspect that good quality [political propaganda] might actually be more likely to thrive, but also might be a more successful strategy for shaping the world the way we want it to be. For me, successful [political propaganda] is not fucking preaching to the converted, which is what sickens me."