The bestselling, “unvarnished” (The New York Times), “engrossing” (The Guardian), “gritty, well-researched” (The Economist)—and definitely unauthorized—biography of the celebrity chef and TV star Anthony Bourdain, based on extensive interviews with those who knew the real story.
Anthony Bourdain’s death by suicide in June 2018 shocked people around the world. Bourdain seemed to have it all: an irresistible personality, a dream job, a beautiful family, and international fame. The reality, though, was more complicated than it seemed.
Bourdain became a celebrity with his bestselling book Kitchen Confidential. He parlayed it into a series of hit television shows, including the Food Channel’s Anthony Bourdain: No Reservations and CNN’s Parts Unknown. But his bad boy charisma belied a troubled spirit. Addiction and an obsession with perfection and personal integrity ruined two marriages and turned him into a boss from hell, even as millions of fans became enamored of the quick-witted and genuinely empathetic traveler they saw on TV. At the height of his success Bourdain was already running out of steam, physically and emotionally, when he fell hard for an Italian actress who could be even colder to him than he sometimes was to others, and who effectively drove a wedge between him and his young daughter.
Down and Out in Paradise is the first book to tell the full Bourdain story, and to show how Bourdain’s never-before-reported childhood traumas fueled both the creativity and insecurities that would lead him to a place of despair. “Filled with fresh, intimate details” (The New York Times), this is the real story behind an extraordinary life.
Biographer Leerhsen (Ty Cobb) delivers an irreverent treatment of chef and reality TV star Anthony Bourdain (1956–2018). Leerhsen sources dozens of interviews and documented conversations to bring light to Bourdain's private relationships, particularly with his parents. Growing up in the upper-class suburb of Leonia, N.J., Bourdain developed, in his own words, a "spoiled romanticism" born of a "smothering chokehold of love and normalcy." He followed his high school crush (and later wife), Nancy, to Vassar College, where he struggled socially and academically before leaving to join the Culinary Institute of America (CIA). Leerhsen shows how, while Bourdain grew in confidence at the CIA, he piled on drugs and debt, and later survived several New York City kitchens before landing at the now-famous Les Halles, obsessively scribbling in notebooks all the while. Leerhsen teases from the beginning that Bourdain's tumultuous relationship with Italian actor Asia Argento, which began in 2016, intertwined with the growing desperation that led up to his suicide. Leerhsen also speculates on what that pivotal romance as well as relationships with restaurant owners, and other supporting characters reveal of Bourdain's tortured psyche, despite how guarded his team keeps his posthumous image. Throughout, saucy quips are amply ladled on. It's a three-dimensional view of a man who cultivated authenticity while he was alive, relayed with similarly frank humor.
Read at your own peril and don’t shoot the messenger
The research is solid, and many of the details are sordid. If you’ve imbibed the buzz on this book, the first thing will come as a surprise and the second will not. I picked this up because I was intrigued that a large number of people who were close to the man clearly wanted the bad and the ugly out there as well as the good. (There are benevolent, tactical reasons for doing so.) I put it down after reading enough to know that yes, the author did his due diligence, and no, I neither want nor need to know. Your own mileage may vary.
I had a deep affinity for Anthony Bourdain’s first two nonfiction books and the first show. After that, his voice stopped connecting with me, and I regarded his surging profile with a bemused, slightly uneasy strain of congratulation accompanied by a shot of hey-this-is-weird-but-none-of-my-bidness. In those two books and the first show, I got some of the best of Bourdain as writer and show creator. I’m grateful for that, and I choose to not learn the details he worked to hide.
Avoid this trash at all costs
Skip this tabloid filth.