‘Fearless spirit’

Anthony Bourdain, celebrity chef and champion of the #MeToo movement, dies at 61

Anthony Bourdain. (Alex Welsh/The New York Times)

The news of the death of Anthony Bourdain, 61, has prompted tributes to the late celebrity chef and journalist — not just for his work in the food world, but also for his rejection of a machismo he once embraced and his full-hearted and sincere endorsement of the #MeToo movement. Bourdain was found dead in a hotel room in the French city of Haut-Rhin, where he was in the middle of filming an episode of his popular CNN show, Parts Unknown. The apparent cause was suicide, officials said.

Even as longtime friends such as chef Mario Batali and fellow restaurateurs like Ken Friedman were accused of sexual harassment and assault, Bourdain did not feign surprise at the allegations but instead wrote that he had decided it was finally time to “pick a side.”

“I stand unhesitatingly and unwaveringly with the women,” wrote Bourdain. “Not out of virtue, or integrity, or high moral outrage  —  as much as I’d like to say so  —  but because late in life, I met one extraordinary woman with a particularly awful story to tell, who introduced me to other extraordinary women with equally awful stories.”

“Right now, nothing else matters but women’s stories of what it’s like in the industry I have loved and celebrated for nearly 30 years  —  and our willingness, as human beings, citizens, men and women alike, to hear them out, fully, and in a way that other women can feel secure enough, and have faith enough that they, too, can tell their stories,” he continued. “We are clearly at a long overdue moment in history where everyone, good hearted or not, will HAVE to look at themselves, the part they played in the past, the things they’ve seen, ignored, accepted as normal, or simply missed  —  and consider what side of history they want to be on in the future.”

Bourdain, who for many years proudly donned the role of a hyper-masculine “bad boy” in the male-dominated restaurant world, has credited his late-life feminist awakening to his girlfriend, Asia Argento, whom he witnessed being driven out of Italy by public backlash after she came forward to accuse Harvey Weinstein of rape. Earlier this week, Bourdain hailed Argento for her “strength and fearlessness” after she silenced the crowd at the Cannes film festival by declaring that abusers still sat among them.

In one of the more candid admissions made by any male celebrity in wake of #MeToo, Bourdain told Slate that he blamed himself for presenting himself as an ambassador of macho culture, and in so doing discouraged women he knew from seeing him as an ally even as they faced sexism, discrimination, and assault from men in the food industry. Speaking with Food & Wine, he said that moving forward he hoped that he and other men could do more to end a culture that tacitly accepts the harassment and assault of women.

“What I think is changing, and the biggest change that we’re going to see, is that men actually have to think about the consequences of what they see, about what they saw and let slide,” said Bourdain. “It’s not just what you do. It’s: ‘Did I act when I saw something?’ ‘Did I report it?’ ‘Was I person people could talk to?’ ‘Am I part of the problem by doing nothing?’”

Bourdain was also unafraid to take on other celebrities, including actor Alec Baldwin and director Quentin Tarantino, when they attacked the #MeToo movement, shamed women who spoke out about abuse, or attempted to evade responsibility for their own complicity.

In a statement posted on Twitter, Argento described Bourdain as a “brilliant, fearless spirit,” and also as “my love, my rock, my protector,” writing that his death had left her “beyond devastated.”

If you or anyone you know needs help, reach out to the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1-800-273-TALK (8255).

Read the full story at The Cut.

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