Bourdain’s Biographer Stayed in the Room Where It Happened

By Karen

In anticipation of Charles Leerhsen’s book coming out October 11, Down and Out in Paradise: The Life of Anthony Bourdain, I’ve contacted him about giving Cats Working an interview once I’ve read the book.

He hasn’t responded to that, but I have pinged his radar because he sent me this link to an article he wrote published Oct. 1, “Anthony Bourdain’s Last Days Revisited.” (It makes you give an email address, but once the site sends you something, unsubscribe, which I did.)

It doesn’t state the article is excerpted from the book, so Leerhsen may be providing additional information here. He discovered that Le Chambard, where Bourdain took his own life, is now squeamish about the whole subject. They refused to let Leerhsen reserve that room (he did get Eric Ripert’s room next door), but the next day, he and his wife actually finagled their way back in and stayed in Bourdain’s room.

Photo: Travelocity

The story ends on a supernatural note that reminds me of some months ago when Roc and I watched a book eject itself from my bedroom bookcase.

The article is definitely worth a read.

In other Bourdain news…

Here’s an interview with Leerhsen by The Guardian that offers some insight, if you ignore the reporting’s factual errors, such as:

  1. In the third paragraph, they mention a show running three seasons. A Cook’s Tour, or even The Layover, were two seasons each. If they’re talking about No Res or Parts, they’re WAY off.
  2. I’ve never seen anywhere that Tony was ever a co-owner of Les Halles. He was broke in his chef days, and he consistently said he never wanted to own a restaurant.
  3. He was 61 when he died, nearly three weeks before his next birthday.
  4. The Hong Kong episode wasn’t posthumous. I believe it first aired in the U.S. the same weekend the skank shacked up with Hugo and cavorted for the Roman paparazzi.

I was luckily able to read the book review published today by Dwight Garner in The New York Times, subtitled “Light on Subtlety, Heavy on Grit.” A few snippets…

“Here are the prostitutes, a lot of prostitutes, and one-night stands, and rumors of affairs with other food-world personalities.”

He compares Leerhsen’s bio to Laurie Woolever’s “authorized” book…

“A previous book, “Bourdain: The Definitive Oral Biography” (2021), compiled by Laurie Woolever, felt like an official Bourdain-industry product. It was worthy but dull.

“It was heavy on pontificating celebrities, from the food, television and journalism worlds, who tried to puzzle out what made this magnificent, pagan, literate, lantern-jawed beast tick, to put him on the couch.

“Leerhsen’s book, on the other hand, has a lot of people trying to join Bourdain on the couch, ideally without his trousers, and thus has more adrenaline and feels truer to life.”

On brother Chris: Here’s a Leerhsen interview with the L.A. Times where he describes what apparently was going on behind the scenes between the brothers, and how Chris tried to deep-six Leerhsen’s book.

[Fun Fact: Did you know there’s virtually no such thing as defaming the dead? They are considered memories, with no active reputation to “protect.”]

The skank vs. Ottavia: Here’s another article called “Everything We Know So Far,” which gives some info on Ottavia’s role and how the skank wanted to erase Tony’s family — at least on social media.

The skank’s reaction: After her last texts with Tony went public last week, she posted a photo of herself on Instagram — defiantly no-class as always.

A friend on Instagram sent me an Italian post from an interview on kikapressandmedia. Translated, it begins…

“Down and out in paradise, the unauthorized biography focused on the character of Anthony Bourdain, has sparked new controversy: once again in the media meat grinder there is AA.” [Abbreviation mine]

AA is quoted on the text messages…

“Those who made the messages public are vultures, and there are many around a famous person. Those who sold them will see it with their karma.”

[NOTE ADDED 10/5: Just noticed another point. Above, AA predicts bad karma for the “vulture” who “sold” her texts (before she did?). Even more ludicrous than thinking her vulgarity has monetary value is her delusion that Tony’s family sought anything beyond the relief of finally getting the truth in print. Or that Leerhsen paid people for cooperation. That’s not how biographers work.]

AA ends with belated recognition of Tony’s child, so she’s working hard for sympathy…

“His daughter, me, my children have suffered, we must transform this poison, I am turning it into my cure. With Anthony we shared being alcoholics, we supported each other with a sense of dark humor, we were very lonely, but two alcoholics together drown.”

Ottavia today? With the provocative click-bait title, “How Anthony Bourdain’s Estranged Wife’s Life Is Drastically Different Since He Passed,” I thought Ottavia had opened up to someone. Wrong. Writer Tara Dugan cobbled together a so-called profile of Ottavia without speaking to her, since there isn’t a single quote, nor providing any fact that isn’t publicly available and possibly dubious. I’m just sharing it as a glaring example of “lamestream” journalism.

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27 Responses to Bourdain’s Biographer Stayed in the Room Where It Happened

  1. Lamestream journalism 👍 love that.

    As always Karen you help make sense of it all. You’re like the duck press Bourdain treasured—you distill so well and dish the sauce like a boss 👩‍🍳.

  2. Cwyn N says:

    The NYT article publishing the text messages basically gave away for free everything new the author has in the book, which I finished reading today. I really feel like too few people are still not talking, too much invested in keeping the Tony Gravy Train running. Like when the “Kitchen Confidential” publisher is quoted as saying they keep a lot of stock of the book because it’s still such a bestseller for them.

    Aside from the texts already in the NYT, anything else trying to flush out the months before can be found in other published articles. I didn’t feel like I got much insight the “Down and Out…” title promises.

  3. catsworking says:

    Cwyn, apologies for taking so long to reply. I’ve been busy reading the book and I’m about halfway through. Can’t say that I agree with you that everything was given away in the prepublication publicity.

    I’ll be doing a post once I finish.

  4. Cwyn N says:

    Oooh looking forward to your analysis! I was regretting spending the money,

  5. catsworking says:

    Cwyn, I don’t think you wasted your money. This book is going where we’ve all wondered about.

    I will say that I’m feeling a bit deceived and resentful that the world fell for his schtick. For all his public emphasis on being open and authentic, he had a secretive, shitty side a mile wide that he seemed very proud of. I’m trying to wrap my head around that.

  6. Corinna says:

    Thank you as always for sharing

  7. Cwyn says:

    There is such a helpless feeling of seeing someone who is clearly having a physical and mental health emergency (same thing, mental health is biology brain/neuro health). Even more helpless when that person is gifted, famous and rich, with friends/family/fans watching in agony at their loved one on a self-destructive path. There is nowhere to put that anger except to go through it and make some kind of peace with it. We look for things/people to blame, but the truth is the suicidal person is very ill, an addict even more so. Tony needed psych help for a long time, and then finally emergency medical help. He may have resisted people attempting to help. He did not get the emergency help in time, and the consequences were tragic.

    Stay gentle with yourself catsworking 💖

  8. catsworking says:

    Cwyn, you expressed it very well. We all watched him age at warp speed before our eyes those last two years. By the end, he looked like a dead man walking.

    Speaking of exhaustion, I’ve stayed up way too late the past two nights reading the book and I’m still only in Part 2. I’ve begun seeing him from an angle that I haven’t really considered before, and it’s surprising me. I’ll tell more as my ideas come together.

    This book may go a long way in putting many of the lingering demons to rest. I think Leerhsen has done a good job of filling in some blanks. No, we can’t blame the skank for what Tony did, but we can be disgusted with her for willfully pushing him out on a ledge and then refusing to offer a hand to pull him back. She was the only one he asked for help (actually, “mercy” was his word), and she told him to “stop busting her balls.”

    His big, stupid mistake.

    She’s got mental health issues of her own.

  9. Cwyn N says:

    Yeah she’s got mental health issues, and she was in another country at the time.

    The most effective solution in the workplace is for productions to shut down and require the person who is ill to get immediate treatment, and the production doesn’t resume until the person is well.

    We can’t blame the production now; changes in our culture need to happen to provide backup. Stigma is an issue that makes it difficult to insist people get help. People need mental health insurance parity, coverage while in foreign countries. Tony could afford to pay, but anyone else in the production probably couldn’t. Corporations like CNN need policies to support treatment rather than insisting on a bottom line.

    Production insurance providers need a policy to require a clean bill of health from a treatment facility team (not just one doctor) that the person is well and able to resume work. When the person refuses, they are no longer employable via workplace insurance. This kind of production policy requirement, no different than the military would require, gets past the difficulties of rich and powerful talent refusing, when their brain is telling them they are fine, and they clearly are not.

    Policies like this are the backup that directors and producers need, and would have saved lives like Tony’s, or Michael Jackson. If the person refuses, they lose their employment insurance and are on their own. People would not be blaming themselves or one another when the policy is made clear, and the person chose not to follow it.

  10. catsworking says:

    Cwyn, agree with you that mental health should be an integral part of health care. It would certainly rid the workplace of a lot of bullies. The only hitch is that in many cases, the mental illness itself makes people famous. “Cure” them to be “normal” and you end their careers.

    It’s the phobias, rage, insecurity, etc., that drives some people to create or perform. And it’s been said that Bourdain had started seeing a therapist in the months before he died. How regularly he did with his travel schedule, who knows?

    The skank seems to be banking on her mental illness to make her relevant again. On Instagram she acts like a deranged teenager begging for attention. May have been cute when she was 20, but at 47, she would be worthy of sympathy if she weren’t so downright nasty.

  11. Cwyn N says:

    The biggest obstacles are cultural, along with financial short-term thinking to keep the show going. The only consideration that rules the day is the cost of the production day, the employment of everyone working on it. Short term money being spent versus the now-incalculable loss that Tony is gone.

    Mental illness and addictions are fatal emergencies, and the talent is too difficult to confront, without backup and the leverage of a policy to get the person help. Or at least to release everyone else wondering forever what they could have done to prevent it.

    The difference with the skank is she’s working on social media by herself. She isn’t on a production talking aloud about how she could end her life, using drugs or alcohol on the set as Tony was. She is making whatever choices she is making without a production machine keeping her going for their bottom line. I agree her choices are sick ones designed to get attention and views, like kissing the prize fighter on his bloody mouth on IG this week. No one can be responsible for what she is doing on her own, and she is always like this on the normal. But I can’t watch Parts Unknown or Roadrunner without seeing continual signs of someone in real trouble.

    Looking forward to more posts! Enjoy the book, I will probably read it again. 💖

  12. catsworking says:

    Cwyn, you make excellent points. If all production companies had such policies in place, I wonder how many mentally disturbed talents would agree to work with them. I don’t think most of them want to be “cured” because they believe the abnormality is what makes them special.

    You’re totally right about the difference between so many lives being affected by Bourdain’s illness and the skank’s strangeness having much lesser consequences.

    Whenever I watch any episode of Bourdain’s shows now, his references to death or killing himself leap out like huge red flags. He talked about it all the time.

    Unfortunately, with his addiction issues, he got himself into a profession where alcohol would be prevalent. Think of all the scenes that would have ended awkwardly if he’d stuck to water. He’d have just been another ugly American refusing well-meant hospitality like a prude.

    The drinking when the cameras weren’t rolling were another matter. Although near the end he said that he seldom drank anymore off camera and didn’t keep liquor in the house. Was this true, or just another one of the convenient lies he told because he wanted it so?

  13. Cwyn N says:

    Tony seemed to be maintenance drinking on the show. He maybe was at the stage of alcoholism where the person drinks just to feel semi-normal rather than completely skunked.

    I know it’s absolutely done on food/drink shows that the star pretends to eat or drink. Giada de Laurentis is reported to put the food in her mouth for the camera shot and spit it into a napkin afterward. If someone is committed to sobriety, they find a way, the camera can shoot the wine glass toast and cut to commercial. 😉

    We also don’t know what steroids he took along with the Viagra on top of alcohol. I think too many things were feeling too out of control for some time, and his mental health reserves completely empty. Very much an emergency situation for someone who thinks so often of self-harm.

  14. GlamourMilk says:

    Cats – I was wondering how you see Tony differently after reading this book.

    The book could have benefited from a better edit, which is a bit sloppy in places, but otherwise I think it’s a well-written book. I also think it’s good that this book came out before her book possibly is translated to English. Then anyone will have the chance to know in advance that her book is full of ‘convenient’ omissions and some direct lies designed to make her look good and Tony look bad

    I doubt this book would exist (at least with the information given) if it wasn’t because Argento herself has behaved like such a spoilt, evil cunt. The revelation of these private messages are a result of her own – in Tony’s own description of her – recklessness and cruelty.

    Anthony Bourdain’s description of Asia Argento: “A cancer that has taken over my whole body and which I can’t get rid of.” When you see her messages to him it’s no weird that he thought of her as a disease.

    There are some clear discrepancies between what she’s said in interviews and on social media after Tony’s death and what has been revealed in the text messages:

    – She said he didn’t ask her for help, which he blatantly did (using that very word) and she dismissed his cry for help.
    – She referred to him as her boyfriend after he died, when she’d broken up with him.
    – She paraded around, pretending to be ‘mother of the year’, when she made it difficult (impossible?) for Tony to be a father to HIS daughter.
    – She maintained a relation to her son’s father but didn’t allow Tony to have a friendship with the mother of his daughter.
    – She pretended she didn’t know why he killed himself.
    – She made threats to kill herself, as a method to manipulate him into giving her money/paying her bills and to keep him in control.
    – She clearly isolated him from his friends and family.
    – She ‘encouraged’ him to pay things for her friends.

  15. catsworking says:

    Cwyn, I believe Giada has an eating disorder, which would explain spitting food out (and why her head looks too big on her tiny body).

    Can’t remember where I saw it, but Bourdain said he wasn’t one of those hosts who just takes a polite bite. If he sat down to a meal, he ate it. He didn’t use camera angles or retakes to make things look different than what they were. For instance, when he was meeting someone, he wouldn’t do multiple takes get it just right. That’s why when the skank “directed” the Hong Kong episode and stopped a scene mid-sentence to schooch the table where he was sitting over an inch, the crew’s reaction was “WTF?”

    I don’t know anything about the steroids or Viagra except what Leerhsen is reporting.

    By the end, the situation with the skank was so out of control that nobody could get through to him. He was totally consumed by her, and if anyone tried to reason with him, he cut them out of his life.

    It seems the crew was seeing the worst of it when filming had to stop for him to fight with her. But after they saw Zach get fired because of her, I doubt anyone else wanted to jeopardize their job by speaking up.

  16. catsworking says:

    Glamour, I just finished the book yesterday evening. As a writer, Leerhsen’s sports background comes thRough, not just with his metaphors, but in style. He also seems to be allergic to commas.

    If there were an award for Hypocrite of the Year, the skank would win it, hands down. One other thing I would add to your list is that she claimed she’d gotten help and dealt with her mental issues, but he didn’t. Not true on both counts. He’d begun seeing a therapist, and all these years later, at age 47 she’s still behaving like a teeny-bopper dipshit on Instagram.

    I’m working on a post (or more likely 2 posts) about the book now. So, stay tuned…

  17. Cwyn N says:

    If the book is to be believed, Tony was doing more than sharing a toast with the locals, he was drinking upon arrival at the set and wanting the crew drinking with him. If this is true, the drinking combined with mental health problems results in a person who is not able to cope, and really barely able to work. The crew became fearful of his rages, as anyone who objected got fired. This is a kind of hostage-taking that a raging person inflicts, and why policies are needed to protect the health and welfare of everyone on a production set.

    That’s why I’m less inclined to assign blame fully to Tony, the production or the skank. People go to work everyday, have toxic relationships everyday, even live with mental illness and alcoholism, but not everybody ends up dead from these things. The only hope we have is to put in place tools, like policies, that give people the necessary leverage to call “stop” and insist necessary health measures are first. I hope I never have to read again about a production that simply had to “go on” at the cost of a life like this.

  18. catsworking says:

    Cwyn, as it turns out, Bourdain became a classic bully and abuser to his crew. Probably a combination of alcohol, his own insecurities, and the mess of his personal life.

    What complicated matters greatly was that the group was constantly on the move all over the world. It’s not like they could go running to CNN HR, Tony would get called in and blessed out by his boss, and he’d be scared straight and things would improve.

    Speaking from experience, Bourdain’s toxic strategy in dealing with his crew in the name of “excellence” or “perfection,” is so common in Corporate America, it’s insane. And virtually nothing ever happens to the bullies. They get promoted, because they’re masters at kissing up and kicking down. And they usually drive others to suicide, they don’t kill themselves. They’re miserable, insecure people who aren’t happy unless they’re shitting on somebody.

    I wouldn’t be surprised if the great reluctance of workers to return to the office isn’t in large part tied to the prevalence of bullies in management. But it’s rarely discussed, let alone considered a problem that needs addressing.

    Now that we can look back on his life in its entirety, it seemed inevitable that Bourdain was going to flame out spectacularly at some point. Ottavia kept him alive a good decade longer than he probably would have lasted. The skank was just the match that lit the dumpster fire of circumstances he had been collecting for a long time. And his own prickly personality kept the people around him from daring to try to help him.

  19. Cwyn N says:

    Well said, let’s hope our culture is gaining more awareness, like you said, of the impact all these things have in the workplace especially. It’s true he probably would have burned out and it’s equally true that she isn’t doing especially well if the IG is as desperate-looking as it seems lately. I can understand now how the crew and others caught in the middle wanted a fuller picture of how it all happened.

  20. Nancy says:

    As a recovering journalist, the one thing that really bugged me about this book was the lack of attribution for many of the assertions made in it.

    For example: early on the author says that when Pierre and Gladys Bourdain’s marriage was breaking up, Tony took his father’s side and Chris took his mother’s. But where did that info come from? I understand the author needs to shield some of his sources, but even some vague attribution like “old family friends claim that …” would be better than nothing at all. Otherwise, I have to consider that the author may have come to this conclusion on his own, and that conclusion might be 100% wrong (and could certainly be the source of Christopher Bourdain’s objections if that’s what the author has done).

    I’m not sure how many grains of salt to take when it comes to these statements.

    As an aside – the LA Times article linked in your post was interesting – Chris Bourdain wanted Anthony’s job? How odd. And something I’d never heard before.

  21. catsworking says:

    Nancy, I’m working on my review post about this book right now. I found all the “confidential sources” notations in the Endnotes annoying. In the book, on points like you mention, I wondered if he got a total memory dump from Nancy (first wife, not you). There’s a limited pool of people who knew him way back when.

    But you’re right. That point about how the kids took sides may have been something Leerhsen extrapolated from Tony’s later deteriorating relationship with his mother. Even in Woolever’s “Definitive” bio, Gladys comes off as a pretty nasty piece of work.

    I’ll disclose one “fact” about Chris wanting Tony’s job. Leerhsen says Chris wanted to do “The Layover” when it proved too grueling for Tony. It makes zero sense to me that Chris, with vastly less travel experience, could think he was qualified to handle that compressed, frantic premise of sucking every minute out of a layover. Could Chris really be that deluded?

  22. GlamourMilk says:

    I have never heard elsewhere that Tony’s brother might have wanted to take over from Tony as a presenter. If that’s true (and I don’t know that it is), then he sounds deluded. Imagine if Michael Palin decided to pass on a travel show and then the producers said, “Let’s ask his sister, if she’ll do it instead”. It makes no sense.

    As for the A-word.
    AA does the same as other ‘criminals’ when they’e committed a crime – they find religion or an eastern philosophy and then they bray about it (on social media), because they’re actually not being spiritual, they’re just virtue signalling.
    She knows she’s done something horrible and irreparable but she won’t/can’t take accountability so instead she portrays herself as a victim (or ’survivor’) so she can gain sympathy.
    But fact is she’s behaved awfully and the consequences of her actions was someone’s death.
    He helped her financially and emotionally and very publicly. He gave up friends and family for her (because she made it hell for him if he didn’t). When she’d finally worn him out completely and left him out to dry, he made the mistake of asking the one person for help that he shouldn’t have. Most other people would have helped. But not her. Because he’d got himself hooked on a terrible person that didn’t wish him well but only wished to bleed him dry, financially and emotionally. He’d become her emotional punching bag. When he asked for help she not only dismissed him, she shat all over him – privately as well as publicly.
    That’s gotta be a lifetime of bad karma for her right there – regardless of how much virtue signalling she does on social media or how much chanting or praying she might do. None of it will absolve her.

  23. catsworking says:

    Glamour, you put it perfectly. I think it’s telling that in the nearly five years she’s been alone, all she’s managed to find is temporary fuck buddies. It seems that karma is already kicking in by denying her another sugar daddy.

    What I find myself grappling with is what gave Bourdain such deep self-loathing that he felt he deserved the skank’s abuse and would do anything to keep the one-sided relationship going. Unless in the end it all came down to the Jimmy Bennett thing. Perhaps he felt he had to keep her close to keep her from exposing his hypocrisy — which she’d have done purely out of spite, even though he compromised himself to save her putrid face.

    When he realized that continuing with her was impossible, he was too defeated and exhausted to face the shame and potential professional ruin that he knew would come once the Bennett story surfaced.

  24. Nancy says:

    Have any of you ever seen the 2018 movie “JT LeRoy”, directed by Justin Kelly? There’s a character in it named Eva (played by Diane Kruger), which is based on Argento and shows the degree of manipulation she was capable of in order to secure the film rights to a book, “The Heart is Deceitful Above All Things” (joke turned out to be on her). Here’s a link to a story about that movie.

    https://www.buzzfeednews.com/article/kateaurthur/asia-argento-kristen-stewart-jt-leroy

    (There is also a 2016 documentary about that whole crazy story called “Author: The JT LeRoy Story,” which includes audio clips of Argento talking to the person who actually wrote the books, Laura Albert.)

    When I heard she was involved with Tony, I got a sinking feeling it wasn’t going to go well. She basically did the same thing to him.

  25. GlamourMilk says:

    Her sense of humour is literally non-existent. I think she’s less intelligent than she’s pretending to be but gets away with being a faux-intellectual because of her in-your-face attitude and her family reputation, which works in her favour. For someone who seems to value humour as much as Tony did, it was clearly not her personality he fell for. You could tell the humour he had going with Ottavia was on point, and his relationship with AA seemed devoid of humour. I guess the shagging made up for her lack of personality. She entered his life at a time when he was in some kind of freefall after an ended relationship. She probably seemed perfect with her blowhard “Art or Die” schtick” as some kind of drunken mid-life crisis fantasy but he could easily have found that elsewhere on a more attractive woman. I think she was a fantasy that worked in a time of crisis. And yes, he clearly drank too much, which must have clouded his judgment in the last two years of his life. Sorry to go for a food metaphor, but only a drunken outlook can explain why he was willing to go from a high-end steak to an overcooked, dried out turkey leg in the last two years of his life.

  26. catsworking says:

    Nancy, I haven’t seen or read anything by/about JT LeRoy, but thanks for the article, which refreshed my memory on the whole sordid mess and the skank’s role in it. Lesson learned: She’ll sleep with anybody if she thinks she’ll profit from it. Weinstein, JT, Bourdain, etc.

  27. catsworking says:

    Glamour, what haunts me every time I see photos of Tony and the skank is how blissed-out he looks, and how calculating, smug or bored she looks. She totally caught him on the rebound, and her being another Italian brunette was possibly him hoping to recreate what he had lost — stupidly, since Ottavia was never really gone.

    As for her (lack of) intelligence and sense of humor, she’s Trump with a pussy. The only thing she’s got on Trump is that she will do some homework so she can throw in references to books, music and movies and appear much more cultured than she is.

    But the insatiable need for attention and approval, the defiance, the lies, the manipulation, the sadism, the total absence of empathy or consideration of consequences — they’re peas in a pod. If you did a Venn diagram of their respective mental illnesses, the circles would lie perfectly on top of each other.

    I’ve been trying to finish my book review, but emergency deadline work has totally screwed my day.

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