“I hate my fans, too. I hate being famous. I hate my job. I am lonely and living in constant uncertainty.” So wrote Anthony Bourdain in a text to his ex-wife and confidante, Ottavia Bussia-Bourdain, according to an unauthorized biography being released in October.
Down and Out in Paradise: The Life of Anthony Bourdain, written by journalist Charles Leerhsen, isn’t a retread of Bourdain: The Official Oral Biography, nor is it another Roadrunner, the movie about Bourdain released earlier this year. In Leershen’s own words, his motivation for writing it was that “We never had that big story, that long piece that said what happened, how the guy with the best job in the world took his own life.”
Though the world will never know exactly why Bourdain chose to hang himself, Leerhsen’s book seemingly sheds light on the volatile and tumultuous relationship Bourdain had during the last two years of his life with Asia Argento, the actress, filmmaker and one time leader of the #MeToo movement. Argento, daughter of filmmaker Dario Argento, allegedly took hundreds of thousands of dollars from Bourdain to pay her bills — and to pay off the young man whom she assaulted when he was only 17. She also insisted that Bourdain’s ex and daughter not post pictures taken with him on social media while flaunting her own affair.
Bourdain, despite his love of good food and, more importantly, good drink, was not one to throw himself into any endeavor half-cocked. His relationship with Argento was no exception, and one that obviously troubled him. He once texted Bussia-Bourdain that he was “hopelessly in love” with Argento. He insisted she be involved with his CNN show Parts Unknown, both on camera and as a director. He became a fierce advocate for #MeToo after Argento came forward with her story of assault at the hands of Harvey Weinstein. He went along with her demands.
The dedication, at least emotionally, does not seem to have been reciprocated. After confronting the actress for a public tryst at the pair’s favorite hotel, Bourdain wrote, “I am okay. I am not spiteful. I am not jealous that you have been with another man. I do not own you. You are free. As I said. As I promised. As I truly meant. But you were careless. You were reckless with my heart. My life.”
Argento told Bourdain she could no longer stay with him after that, though that would not be their last conversation. There would be a final plea, one asking her if there was anything he could do to salvage the relationship. Argento’s reply was “stop busting my balls,” to which Bourdain replied, “Ok.” Later that night, after going out eating and drinking by himself, he hanged himself in his hotel room.
While it is not uncommon for the abused to become abusers, Argento’s relationship with Bourdain, if not Jimmy Bennett, the teen she assaulted, seems less a result of Harvey Weinstein and more a product of her troubled relationship with her father Dario. In interviews, she’s said he was not a dad so much as a director — she started acting when she was only nine, though Dario wouldn’t cast her until she was 16 — and that her childhood was not a happy one. Furthermore, when her father did put her in his films, she portrayed characters who were “undressed, raped and psychologically traumatized on screen.”
An important fact: a signature of Dario’s slasher flicks was partially flipping the script and having women play the villains. But the subject of their torment was generally other women. Dario would also read his scripts to Asia as bedtime stories. An armchair psychologist might combine that information with Asia’s seeming proclivity for dating older men and conclude that she was not given the best foundation upon which to build healthy relationships. He might also reason that as an adult, she is perhaps seeking revenge upon him, though not in the direct manner of his antagonists.
While it has been speculated that Asia was the contributing factor to Bourdain’s suicide, she has denied it. And dead men tell no tales, particularly as Bourdain left no note. Nevertheless, the relationship between the pair, Bourdain’s final one on this plane, certainly reads more like a mashup of #MeToo and her father’s “The Three Mothers” trilogy than an episode of Parts Unknown, especially as it did not end happily.