Unintended Consequence of Silence RE: Bourdain’s Suicide

November 27, 2018

By Karen

CNN has eked out its last moments of Anthony Bourdain’s Parts Unknown. His apartment has new tenants. His condo is on the market because his wife and daughter have moved elsewhere.

In spite of his books, reams of interviews, TV shows and movie appearances still available to read and watch, because his voice is gone on current events, he’s inexorably blurring and slipping into irrelevance, like a dream remembered.

It’s been nearly six months, and not only do I still feel no closure, but I’m troubled by how his suicide is morphing in a way he never would have intended.

On November 13, The Wall Street Journal ran an article, “The Dark Side of the Restaurant World.” It led with a Chicago restaurant manager, Charles Ford, deciding “he would no longer be silent about his three suicide attempts,” and discussed the physical and emotional toll of restaurant work — long hours, abysmal pay, never-ending physical demands.

But the sentence that got my attention was, “Through Mr. Bourdain’s literary manager, Kimberly Witherspoon, the late chef’s family declined to comment for this article.”

On one hand, that made sense because Bourdain hadn’t worked as a chef since 2000, when he began filming A Cook’s Tour for Food Network.

On the other hand, his family’s silence let his suicide be used as a consequence of what ails the restaurant industry. This is what they should have said…

ANTHONY BOURDAIN DIDN’T KILL HIMSELF OVER A JOB HE HADN’T DONE IN NEARLY TWO DECADES.

I think by his count, Bourdain spent 28 years slaving in restaurant kitchens. He was proud to pull himself up the chain until he achieved head chef status at Brasserie Les Halles in New York City. He told this story across several books. If there’s someone out there with a better memory, please tell me where he ever mentioned feeling suicidal over working in a kitchen.

What I recall is his pride in having the toughness and stamina for the work. He loved hanging out with co-workers after a brutal shift. Later, when he had a platform, he became their most outspoken advocate, particularly for the immigrants and women.

I truly sympathize with Charles Ford’s struggles, but I wonder what Bourdain would have said in his snarky days about a general manager who worked in a suit everywhere but over a hot stove and couldn’t hack it.

Kitchen workers have grueling jobs, but I think they’re mistaken to make Bourdain their poster boy for suicide. It’s just like how people still insist on calling him a “celebrity chef” when he NEVER was.

Pre-Kitchen Confidential, nobody ate at Les Halles because Tony Bourdain was the chef. He’d be the first to say it. By the time he became a bona fide celebrity, he hadn’t been a chef for years.

So far, Chef Daniel Boulud has been the ONLY acquaintance to come anywhere near speaking what’s probably closer to the truth about Bourdain’s death. This month he told Us Magazine Bourdain died because “his heart was broken,” and that his death was “a shock to everyone, absolutely.”

Tony’s mother Gladys said essentially the same about his lack of suicidal tendencies when the news first broke.

In the months since, those of us seeking the truth have taken a closer look at the dark forces that began to consume Bourdain in 2016 when he fell in with Asia Argento and her friends.

This past September, Argento was still giving teary interviews about how she felt Bourdain had abandoned her and her two children (for the record, her daughter is 17 and her son now lives with his father in the U.S.), with no mention of Bourdain’s own 11-year-old daughter.

This month (November), Argento was reported to have hooked up with a paparazzi sprung earlier this year from his second jail stint, they had sex on her table, and he claimed to be besotted with her. Italian media soon reversed course, reporting it was a stunt Argento pulled for money and publicity. Whichever version is true, that’s just a peek at the woman Bourdain considered his “soulmate” until he learned three days before he died that she had cheated on him.

Tony’s family didn’t hold a public memorial service because they didn’t think he’d want one. But memorials are for the living, not the dead. Into the void have grown many pop-up homages, mostly by restaurant chefs, which is great. Bourdain was their champion. His life had become one of showing us restaurants and their menus all over the world that we’d otherwise never know.

He was restaurant workers’ biggest cheerleader, but I think he’d be the last to consider his death emblematic of how hard and hopeless kitchen work can be.

Rather, he was a SURVIVOR of it and proud to be. It was his life AFTER being a chef that killed him. We still don’t — and may never — know exactly what aspects of his life did it.

Unfortunately, this silence has left the door open to whatever spin anyone wants to put on it. I don’t think Bourdain would have approved.

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Bourdain’s Travels End in the Lower East Side

November 14, 2018

By Karen

On November 11, CNN aired the final new episode of Parts Unknown that Anthony Bourdain’s crew could finish without him. Remaining in limbo is unseen footage from a shoot in May in Florence that Bourdain did with then-girlfriend Asia Argento. CNN has said it will not air whatever film was captured in the Alsace region of France with Eric Ripert during the week leading up to Bourdain’s suicide in June.

Tony’s final wander through the Lower East Side of Manhattan was given kaleidoscopic effects that may have mimicked the mental downward spiral he was trying to conceal. The visit aptly brought his life full circle by showing his stomping grounds of the 1970s and ‘80s, when he was a young heroin addict who thought he had no future.

Once fame found Bourdain, and particularly when he became a father at age 50, we watched him reject, one by one, the trappings of that former life: his thumb ring, his earring, his leather jacket and smoking.

But in the end, he was heavily smoking Marlboro Reds again, and the last leather jacket he chose looked as weathered and worn as the man himself had become.

Bourdain in Lower East Side of Manhattan

(Photo – David Scott Holloway/CNN)

I confess that I had mostly never heard of the musicians, artists, writers and poets Tony met and reminisced with. I’m only about two years older than he, but I must have been living on a different planet, although decades ago I got a taste of his origins.

My family was transferred to New Jersey in 1969 and I became a freshman at Freehold High School, about 50 miles south of Leonia, where Tony would have been in 7th grade. Had we met then, he probably would have scared the shit out of me. I was still reading Little Women, but found myself surrounded by tough kids who smoked pot, had sex and terrorized the teachers.

We moved again when I was a sophomore and I blocked out my year of living dangerously in Freehold, but it would all come rushing back whenever I saw Bourdain talk about his disaffected youth.

The ZPZ cinematographers really captured the LES’s cigarette butts, garbage, graffiti, abandoned shopping carts — a landscape Bourdain could wax nostalgic about. Spinning and blurry video, close-ups of dolls with dead eyes and dirty bare feet, and talk of rats completed the picture. Did I see some man about to bite off a mouse’s head?

From that squalor, thanks to the power of his writing, Bourdain’s world evolved into a $13,000-a-month 64th-floor apartment with river views at Columbus Circle.

Finally, forget the bone marrow or sushi Tony always cited as last-meal preferences. The last meal of his TV career was plain eggs boiled by artist John Lurie in his apartment. It must have been when Tony admired and bought Lurie’s painting, “The sky is falling. I’m learning to live with it.”

The LES episode was filmed in April 2018. That’s when Tony paid Jimmy Bennett $200,000 to make Bennett drop his claim that Argento had raped him when he was under the age of consent.

During the final montage of frantically swirling graphics, I wondered if that’s what Tony saw in his last moment. The accompanying music was Johnny Thunders’ “You Can’t Put Your Arms Around a Memory,” and if you listened carefully, you could hear Tony’s 11-year-old daughter Ariane singing along.

If Bourdain had lived to polish the episode, I have no doubt his narrative would have pulled it all together, making the gritty Lower East Side the natural spot for young Tony to hone his tastes in music and art. But without his reassuring voiceover, seeing his sad-eyed, now-haggard face just highlighted for me the dreadfulness of seeing Anthony Bourdain’s hard-won ascent to bestselling author and revered world traveler end in oblivion in a lonely French hotel room.


Bourdain Revealed Last Wishes in Indonesia

October 9, 2018

By Karen

Anthony Bourdain probably filmed Parts Unknown season 12 Indonesia in April 2018, about the time his $200,000 payment went to Jimmy Bennett in hopes of killing Bennett’s claim that Tony’s then-girlfriend, Asia Argento, had sexually assaulted Bennett as a teenager.

Bourdain filmed one scene at a Bali resort surrounded by sunbathing and swimming tourists while he braved the heat in jeans, sipping an umbrella drink, mocking Wagyu beef sliders, and seeming to hate every minute.

Then a one-eyed man named Lawrence ferried Bourdain to a former penal island, where they shared an enormous lobster and talked about death. Tony says, “I’ve thought about, as one does, how do I want to go?”

Lawrence suggests, “You want them all to cry, don’t you?”

Tony answers…

“No. Leave me in the jungle. I don’t want a party. ‘Reported dead.’ You know, what actually happens to my physical remains is of zero interest to me unless it can provide entertainment value. Throw me into a wood chipper and spray me into Harrods [London department store] at the middle of the rush hour. That would be pretty epic. I wouldn’t mind being remembered in that way.”

Two months later, Bourdain didn’t get his “epic” ending; he was cremated in France on June 13 and his ashes flown home to his brother Chris on June 15, ten days before what would have been Tony’s 62nd birthday.

But the rest of what he said is pretty spot-on. We know he killed himself by hanging with some alcohol in his system, but no suspicious drugs. Period.

Esquire just presented as fact that Tony’s family held a small private ceremony, but that statement is only based on a June 22 New York Times article that says…

“The family will likely have a small, private ceremony of some kind, said Gladys Bourdain, his mother. ‘He would want as little fuss as possible,’” she said.”

So, we still don’t know for sure. Many restaurants have been hosting special dinners in Bourdain’s memory, as on October 5 at Sardine in Madison, Wisconsin. It was ostensibly to honor Jacques Pepin, but when Pepin and his daughter Claudine arrived, they learned it was also a suicide prevention fundraiser.

Barring some new revelations in a CNN documentary and a biography scheduled for 2019 release, this could well be the end of the story. Except…

Tony’s ex-girlfriend, Asia Argento, used Trump’s well-known tactic of spreading lies by claiming “people are saying” to tearfully tell the Daily Mail details of a far-fetched tale about Tony’s death that she claims Rain Dove told her.

But, of course, Asia doesn’t believe it. Anything to paint herself as the victim.

As we’re watching Parts Unknown’s final episodes, it becomes clear Bourdain was increasingly preoccupied with death. Although Indonesia footage was edited posthumously with the benefit of hindsight, it includes THE most grisly scene I’ve ever seen on ANY Bourdain series, bar none. And I’m not talking about the whole pig roasting on a spit.

It’s a human funeral, beginning with a close-up of the deceased’s face as the body is being prepared for final rites. The public cremation includes the sight of the now-skinless, hairless blackening skull, fingers, joints and bones. Finally, the fragments and ashes are gathered into a cloth, several people wade into the nearby surf, and the remains are dumped into the water.

The cremation was supposed to be the mourners’ happy phase of the ceremony, and an off-screen voice explains…

“Time is circular. Death is but the beginning of another journey.”

One has to wonder if Tony believed that, and if those words came to mind in that hotel room in France, making what he was about to do seem not such a bad thing.

The episode ends with a bit of recycled voiceover (from Greece?), where Bourdain says…

“All stories should end on a beach. All the good ones do, anyway. Why should this one be any different?”

I wonder if it’s a clue for us that his family scattered his ashes in the Atlantic. I hope so. It seems fitting, considering how much time he spent living near it and flying over it.

PS: I started Bourdain’s last graphic novel, Hungry Ghosts, today. Stay tuned for a review. (So far, I’m impressed by its high-quality hardcover production for the amazing low price of $11.99.)


Outraged at Balvenie’s Emmy Tribute to Bourdain? Get Over It.

September 19, 2018

By Karen

In February 2015, Anthony Bourdain partnered with The Balvenie, makers of handcrafted single malt Scotch whisky, to host a series of short videos called Raw Craft. It was notable because Bourdain always said how much he loathed celebrity endorsements. But in this situation, PRNNewswire quoted Bourdain changing his tune…

“For me, there is deep satisfaction in seeing people, with a particular skill set and a real passion, produce a beautiful thing which is why I’m excited to be a part of these programs in partnership with The Balvenie. There is no doubt for me, that if you can have it, you want the stuff where people have taken their time, paid attention to and personally care about how it was created. It is very important to me that these kinds of crafts continue into the future and we value artisans who make the decision to choose quality over quantity.”

This statement is not inconsistent with the philosophy Bourdain always espoused. He went on to film a series of 14 videos for Balvenie, giving exposure to a variety of obscure but dedicated small business owners.

After the partnership began, Bourdain made waves in the whisky world by sacrilegiously saying he preferred his whisky on the rocks, proving he was no brainless shill for Big Booze.

During the Emmys (and I swear on a bible I saw this spot BEFORE the “In Memoriam” segment, not after — it must have replayed but I fast-forwarded through it), Balvenie ran a 30-second tribute to Bourdain. Twitter had a hissy. Here’s the spot so you can judge its tastefulness for yourselves…

Maybe Trump and the GOP have destroyed my sense of outrage, but I found nothing wrong with this. It was a tribute to Bourdain’s commitment to quality, and a thanks. Basically, they showed him explaining how he chose to live and work.

(Well, until 2016, when he met a certain Italian actress. That’s another story.)

I believe fans who think this was Balvenie’s cynical attempt to cash in on their Bourdain connection one last time got the motivation wrong. I saw a sincere attempt to honor a man who, in his own way, was every bit the craftsman they consider themselves to be.

Maybe I’m being played by Balvenie, but next time I visit a liquor store, I’ll probably buy a bottle (if I can afford it) just for the experience of trying something Tony believed in.

And call me a sucker but, shortly after Tony died, my car swerved into the drive-through of Popeye’s Chicken because I suddenly craved his secret guilty pleasure.

We can reread his books and rewatch his shows, but I think sharing the foods and drinks he enjoyed would probably please him most.


Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown Wins Six Emmys

September 10, 2018

By Karen

FINALLY, after eight previous nominations (as tallied by Variety), Anthony Bourdain posthumously won the Emmy for Outstanding Writing. Ironically, it was for the Southern Italy episode of Parts Unknown, which CNN has pulled from streaming and reruns because it features Tony hanging out with his former girlfriend, Asia Argento.

Tony’s longtime Zero Point Zero producer Lydia Tenaglia accepted the award on his behalf.

If Tony hadn’t killed himself on June 8, several days after seeing photos of Argento spending the weekend in Rome with French journalist Hugo Clement, Tony and Argento might have appeared on the red carpet again together. Tony might have even pulled her up on stage with him to accept the award for the episode they shared.

In Argento’s fondest fantasies, Tony would have turned over the mic to her so she could launch into what we now know would be a totally hypocritical diatribe against Harvey Weinstein the sexual predator, as she did at Cannes, with the man bankrolling her own statutory rape coverup standing behind her.

In reality, Argento’s unemployed and trying to dodge accusations that she has sex with underage boys.

Back to the awards, here’s the run-down of all the Emmys the Parts Unknown crew took home last night, and who they beat…

Outstanding Writing for a Nonfiction Program

  • Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown • Southern Italy • CNN
  • The Defiant Ones • Episode 1 • HBO
  • Icarus • Netflix
  • Jane • National Geographic
  • Mister Rogers: It’s You I Like • PBS
  • The Vietnam War • Episode 8: The History Of The World (April 1969-May 1970) • PBS

Outstanding Informational Series or Special

  • Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown • CNN
  • Leah Remini: Scientology And The Aftermath • A&E
  • My Next Guest Needs No Introduction With David Letterman • Netflix
  • StarTalk With Neil deGrasse Tyson • National Geographic
  • Vice • HBO

Outstanding Picture Editing for a Nonfiction Program

  • Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown • Lagos • CNN
  • The Defiant Ones • Episode 3 • HBO
  • Jane • National Geographic
  • Wild Wild Country • Part 3 • Netflix
  • The Zen Diaries Of Garry Shandling • HBO

Outstanding Sound Editing for a Nonfiction Program (Single or Multi-Camera)

  • Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown • Seattle
  • Blue Planet II • Coral Reefs • BBC America
  • The Defiant Ones • Episode 1 • HBO
  • Jane • National Geographic
  • The Vietnam War • Episode 6: Things Fall Apart (January 1968-July 1968) • PBS
  • Wild Wild Country • Part 1 • Netflix

Outstanding Sound Mixing for a Nonfiction Program (Single or Multi-Camera)

  • Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown • Lagos
  • The Defiant Ones • Episode 1 • HBO
  • Jane • National Geographic
  • The Vietnam War • Episode 6: Things Fall Apart (January 1968-July 1968) • PBS
  • Wild Wild Country • Part 1 • Netflix

Outstanding Short Form Nonfiction or Reality Series

  • Anthony Bourdain: Explore Parts Unknown • CNN (cnn.com)
  • The Americans: The Final Season • FX Networks
  • The Assassination Of Gianni Versace: American Crime Story: America’s Obsessions • FX Networks
  • Jay Leno’s Garage • NBC (nbc.com)
  • Top Chef: Last Chance Kitchen • Bravo (bravotv.com)

The only category they didn’t win was Outstanding Cinematography for a Nonfiction Program for the Lagos episode.

Variety spoke backstage to Explore Parts Unknown executive producer Nathan Thornburgh and reported him saying that public support has meant a lot to those who worked with Bourdain…

“‘The one thing about this loss is it’s not ours alone, like everybody knew that guy,’ Thornburgh said. ‘Everybody had a selfie with him, but more importantly I think everyone felt like he had spoken to them over the years and that’s helped a lot, to feel like we’re not alone.’”

The 12th and final season of Parts Unknown begins September 23. Here’s the trailer…


Argento Tries Patching Her Crumbling World with Lies

September 5, 2018

By Karen

From a page out of Donald Tump’s playbook, Asia Argento’s latest strategy is, “If at first you don’t succeed, lie, lie again — and hire a new lawyer.”

Page Six has reported that Argento is reneging on her deal with Jimmy Bennett to send him $180,000 in monthly $10,000 installments until she pays off the $380,000 settlement to which Anthony Bourdain contributed $200,000 back in April.

The story states that Bennett has so far received, $250,000, so the math implies he got checks for May, June, July, August and September.

Page Six isn’t a paragon of journalistic integrity, but I would guess that, without access to Bourdain’s wallet, Argento is strapped for cash.

(BTW, media reports are now jumbling all these numbers. I’m sticking to figures provided by The New York Times in August; they received and authenticated the legal documents.)

Argento has been dropped from X Factor Italy, her only steady employment I’m aware of. She will appear only in initial episodes already filmed.

Also, CNN has pulled from streaming all episodes of Parts Unknown Argento was involved in: Rome, Southern Italy and Hong Kong. She was shooting in Florence with Bourdain two weeks before his death, but that one’s apparently toast because it’s not in the seven-episode “Final Season” CNN will air this fall.

Returning to Page Six, one bit they nailed is that Argento has replaced her lawyer Carrie Golding with Mark Jay Heller, a celebrity ambulance-chaser who has represented Lindsey Lohan (whatever happened to her?) and many others.

Heller wrote a statement about his newest client that’s featured on his homepage. (Don’t miss the video at the top showcasing what a sleaze he is.) The title: “Asia Argento Launches Phase Two of the #MeToo Movement.”

It’s hilarious because Argento has been persona non grata with #MeToo since her romp with 17-year-old Jimmy Bennett came out in the NYT.

But what exactly is “Phase Two”? Heller explains…

“Phase Two of the #metoo movement dictates that the voice of a victim, even one with a history that may be in question, should be heard and she is hopeful that in the Court of Public Opinion it will ultimately be determined that Asia never initiated an inappropriate sexual contact with a minor, but rather she was attached by Bennett and might even be suffering the fallback of a smear campaign by those already accused who may have a vested interest in their accusers being denied credibility.”

Heller includes a little “smear campaign” of his own on Jimmy Bennett by mentioning that in 2014 (after Argento assaulted Bennett) he was allegedly charged by the LAPD with “unlawful sex with a minor,” “stalking,” “child pornography” and “child exploitation.” Heller also gratuitously mentions Bennett’s lawsuit against his parents for allegedly stealing his earnings.

Argento’s schtick now is that she was unequivocally raped by Bennett. Forget that spider-poised-to-strike selfie of breathless anticipation she posted on Instagram before he arrived for their rendezvous.

To make matters even more confusing, Rain Dove, the significant other of Rose McGowan (Happy 45th Birthday, Rose! Your suddenly gray stubble-do looks fab on you!), has been feuding with Argento on Twitter today.

The Daily Mail has published texts of Rain and Argento discussing Bourdain’s death not being suicide, and Argento drops the bomb, “there was a witness.” But it’s unclear if she’s talking about Bourdain’s death or about Rain not sharing with Argento related documents s/he supposedly has (how?).

If you’re drinking anything right now, please swallow before reading this last paragraph of Heller’s statement about Argento…

“When the true facts are clarified, we know Asia will return to her International prominence as an award winning and acclaimed Actress, musician and Director.”

The “true fact” we know about Asia Argento is that she will say or do anything to get what she wants, and then betray whoever it takes to cover her misdeeds.

Again, straight from Trump’s playbook.


Asia Argento’s Claim of Talent: Deceitful Above All Things

August 27, 2018

By Karen

Still trying to wrap my head around Asia Argento’s alleged statutory rape of Jimmy Bennett in 2013, and Anthony Bourdain’s alleged participation in the cover-up earlier this year, I just watched the movie that spawned the whole mess. In 2004, Argento cast Bennett in The Heart is Deceitful Above All Things when he was 7 years old. It’s available for free on Amazon Prime.

Bennett plays young Jeremiah, and Argento plays Sarah, his drug-addicted prostitute mother. Argento also received script credit and directed the film, set in West Virginia.

How Argento got the rights to this “JT Leroy” story by sleeping with the woman who masqueraded as Leroy, and then cheated on Leroy to “his” face by sleeping with a man is a story in itself. Basically, it’s another example of Argento’s now well-recognized schtick of using people for her own ends before shitting all over them.

Back to the movie. Here’s the trailer (Bennett is the youngest boy)…

In badly fitting blonde wigs, Argento’s hit-or-miss Southern accent is the extent of her acting. The rest is pretty much her typical behavior as she’s posted it on Instagram for years.

In a nutshell, the story celebrates child abuse in myriad forms. Sarah makes Jeremiah her captive audience to watch her smoke, drink, do drugs, and have sex with strangers whenever he isn’t being tortured.

The photography includes lots of shots of Argento on all fours poking her barely-clad ass at the camera as if she considers it her best feature.

Jimmy Bennett looks scared, sad and finally numb throughout his portion of the film. Fortunately, his gig is done and he’s replaced by two older twins before a man rapes the Jeremiah character.

The rape scene may be the film’s most tasteful bit, with Argento stepping in to play Jeremiah’s fantasy that he’s Sarah. What, you didn’t think for a moment Argento would have a sex scene in her movie without her, did you?

Afterward, the only indication of “how it went” is Jeremiah trying to wash blood from stained frilly panties.

In one climactic scene, Sarah makes this speech to Jeremiah. It’s easy to imagine Asia spitting these words at Tony during one of their arguments…

“You think I need you? You’ve done nothing but ruin everything. Always. I sacrificed so much for you, you shitty bastard. I could have been something. I had to give it all up for you. By myself I’ve always landed on my feet. Never forget that.”

Making the film gave Argento an opportunity, in the name of art, to experiment with destroying a child. Four years later, in 2008, she gave birth to her son, Nicola. In 2013, before Nicola was 5, Argento allegedly had sex with Jimmy, the boy she knew best when he was only 7.

We’re left with 97 minutes of film showing how coarse, cruel and slutty Argento can be. It boggles the mind to think Anthony Bourdain ever watched it and found it impressive work.

Jimmy Bennett’s upbringing must have been nightmarish for his parents to allow his participation in this travesty, and then to allow him to keep in touch with the woman responsible.

BONUSES: Here’s a 2006 review still available online by Jeremy C. Fox at Pajiba that discusses the Leroy book and gives the movie and Argento much more credit than I do, but he’s ultimately disappointed.

Snippets of dozens of professional reviews are at Rotten Tomatoes, but I found most full versions no longer accessible.

Oops! Just found another one from 2006 by Ty Burr at The Boston Globe. Enjoy — or puke!


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