Anthony Bourdain — rugged, unrefined and vulgar — was beloved worldwide. Watching his shows felt like touring the globe with a friend who was desperate to share a perfect meal with you. One night, you’re heading to Tehran for a home-cooked Persian feast. Next, you’re sitting on a plastic chair in a small noodle shop in Hanoi, Vietnam, sharing a cold beer and bowl of grilled pork with then-President Barack Obama. 

Bourdain seemed to relish these adventures and was apparently madly in love with his new girlfriend, actress Asia Argento, so it was a huge shock to fans and friends when he killed himself in 2018.

A new film explores Bourdain’s career — from line cook, to author, to TV celebrity — plus the weeks leading up to his death. It’s called “Roadrunner: A Film About Anthony Bourdain.” 

Its director, Academy Award winner Morgan Neville, tells KCRW that Bourdain’s TV producers discovered he was shy and had a tough time looking people in the eye when speaking with them. 

“[He] really had to figure out how to be himself on television. In no way was he a natural. What he was was smart and quick and funny. And he just had to figure out how to do that on camera, which he did, and did it incredibly well.” 

Neville says Bourdain’s hunger for knowledge allowed him to excel onscreen. “He read voraciously and retained everything he read. So he had this incredible storage of knowledge. And then once he had the chance to travel, it was like he’d been training for that job for decades. And suddenly he realized, ‘Oh, everything I know and everything I can do, I can channel it.’” 

He adds, “[Bourdain] understood that he was leaving behind the things that … kept him moored to a more sane life. And suddenly … traveling 250 days a year with something that was exciting on the one hand, but also totally frightening.”

Taking on fatherhood 

After divorcing his first wife, Bourdain remarried and had a daughter, Ariane. Neville says her birth added stability to his life.

“People who knew Tony as a chef could never, ever have imagined that this guy would have a child,” he says. “[He] really makes a real run at trying to be a domestic, as Tony would say, ‘50s TV dad’ in the backyard at the barbecue, cooking hot dogs and trying to entertain the neighbors.”

But he notes that Bourdain’s role as a father didn’t sway his hunger to travel. 

“There was always this ‘siren’s call of the road’. … His extreme restlessness of wanderlust, I think, was both one of his strengths and also one of his weaknesses.”

Exploitation or exposure?

According to Neville, Bourdain was initially shocked that anyone would pay him to travel, but as he became more prominent, he grew hyper aware of potentially exploiting the communities he visited.  

“Once he got to CNN and … his fame and the scope and depth of the show grew

Focus Features has released the first trailer for Roadrunner, a documentary about the life of chef, author, and travel host Anthony Bourdain. The film premieres at the Tribeca Film Festival on June 11th and will be released widely in theaters on July 16th.

Directed by Academy Award-winning filmmaker Morgan Neville (20 Feet From StardomWon’t You Be My Neighbor?), Roadrunner follows Bourdain’s career, starting with when he first published his daring restaurant memoir Kitchen Confidential in 2000 and landed his first travel show, A Cook’s Tour, on the Food Network. Through his later series, No Reservations on the Travel Channel and Parts Unknown on CNN, Bourdain captivated audiences with his passion for food, his curiosity and empathy toward other cultures, and his biting, sardonic commentary, all the way up to his tragic death by suicide in June 2018.

The film combines clips from Bourdain’s shows with behind-the-scenes footage, home videos, and interviews with some of Bourdain’s closest friends, colleagues, and production crew members, including restauranteurs David Chang and Eric Ripert, longtime producer Tom Vitale, and Alison Mosshart of the Kills. In a statement, Neville said his goal for the film was to capture Bourdain “in his own voice and in the way he indelibly impacted the world around him.”

Focus Features/Youtube

Roadrunner: A Film About Anthony Bourdain highlights the impact that the chef and journalist left on the world

An upcoming documentary shines a light on Anthony Bourdain’s life, as it aims to get to the heart of the late gonzo journalist and chef’s ethos as he silently struggled behind the scenes. Roadrunner: A Film About Anthony Bourdain showcases Bourdain’s lasting imprint on the world, using real footage from Bourdain’s various shows and new interviews with friends and colleagues who share insights about the passionate chef, whose empathetic travel and food shows allowed us, at home, to peek into cultures and places we’ve never been and connect with strangers all thanks to Mr. Bourdain’s unique gift as a conduit of connection.

From the publication of his tell-all book Kitchen Confidential, which led to him host world travel shows like No Reservations and Parts Unknown, to his untimely death in 2018, the new film covers it all.

Throughout the trailer, friends and loved ones put into words the impact that Bourdain had on them and what they thought about the trailblazing figure.

“He was a traditional romantic,” says one friend. “Reality was never going to live up to exactly how he pictured it,” said another. “He was definitely searching for something,” adds another.

Despite his celebrity and his world-traveling quest to connect through food and adventure, Bourdain lived “a life unknown,” a reference to his beloved CNN series, but also a true testament to the mystery of this man.

“It’s not where you go. It’s what you leave behind,” reads the film’s official synopsis. “Chef, writer, adventurer, provocateur: Anthony Bourdain lived his life unabashedly. Roadrunner: A Film About Anthony Bourdain is an intimate, behind-the-scenes look at how an anonymous chef became a world-renowned cultural icon. From Academy Award®-winning filmmaker Morgan Neville…this unflinching look at Bourdain reverberates with his presence, in his own voice and in the way he indelibly impacted the world around him.”

The world gravitated towards Bourdain for his no-bullshit approach to food, travel, and human connection all while being open with his struggles with depression and drug use.

In a 2016 episode of his show, he spoke to a therapist about his depression and the mundane objects that can trigger him.

“I will find myself in an airport for instance and I’ll order a airport hamburger. It’s an insignificant thing, it’s a small thing, it’s a hamburger, but it’s not a good one,” he shared. “Suddenly I look at the hamburger and I find myself in a spiral of depression that can last for days….I feel kind of like a freak and I feel kind of isolated.”

“I communicate for a living, but I’m terrible at communicating with people I care about because the evil hamburger which sets me off, suddenly I’m super depressed for day,” he added.

Roadrunner is directed by Academy Award-winning Morgan Nelville, who made the Fred Rogers biopic Won’t You Be My Neighbor? Roadrunner debuts in theaters July 16,

Master traveler Anthony Bourdain was not one to mince words about any destination. As he said in a “No Reservations” episode in Croatia, “If you like food and haven’t come here to eat, you’re really missing the ******* boat.”

He spent up to 250 days each year on the road, first for his series “No Reservations,” and later for “Parts Unknown,” and he had an opinion about every place he went, as he noted in “Parts Unknown” about Brazil: “Even people who are afraid to travel, who said, ‘Oh, well, but I hear…’ You know what? Live your life, man. You should not miss a place like this.”

Laurie Woolever was Bourdain’s assistant, and co-author of their 2016 cookbook, “Appetites.”  In 2018, they’d just started to collaborate on a travel guide … then came the news of his death.

“CBS This Morning” co-host Anthony Mason asked Woolever, “What did you think would happen after Tony died?”

“Right away, I thought, that’s the end of that book,” she replied.

But Bourdain’s family urged her to finish it. The result, “World Travel: An Irreverent Guide,” incorporates Bourdain’s unique voice and observations about the world.

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Ecco


Mason asked, “I imagine in some ways you could hear his voice all the time.”

“Oh, absolutely,” said Woolever. “I mean, there’s so much of, ‘What would Tony do,’ in any circumstance. Working with him for ten years, I was very steeped in his voice, in his work.”

And she had the notes from their initial brainstorming session: “I taped the whole thing, thank God,” she said. “And I had a list of every place he had ever been.”

“That’s a long list!” said Mason.

“It was a very long list. The ones he said yes to, he also would have very clear and sometimes very emotionally-resonant memories about those places.”

The result: an irreverent guide to cities, restaurants and hotels, for those who want to travel like Bourdain … or at least to read about it.

What does it mean to travel like Bourdain? Said Woolever, “I think it means to be very open to whatever it is that the place is offering, and to try and not go in with your one, set agenda of, ‘This is how I travel.’ He was willing and open to accept what it was that people wanted to give him. He was an incredibly gracious guest.”

Of course, a good meal was always a centerpiece of Bourdain’s adventures. We may not be able to travel like Bourdain right now, but we can eat like him. Mason caught up with Woolever at Bar Boulud, a New York restaurant recommended in the guide, where the charcuterie board offered Pâté Campagne and Pâté normal.

“This was something that Tony loved so much,” said Woolever. “It’s kind of a dying art.”

Or as Bourdain called it, “Food for the gods.”

Good food Bourdain-style often includes good company, like restaurateur and chef Daniel Boulud, a longtime friend.

In 2014, for “Parts

Woolever started working with Bourdain for his “Les Halles Cookbook,” published in 2004, in which the chef and budding TV host described her as “the lone professional in a monkey house. The book could never have been done without her.” She returned to Bourdain’s employ in 2009 and worked with him right up to his death. Aside from the travel guide, in which she had to rely largely on old shows and transcripts, Woolever has another book in the works, “Bourdain: The Oral Biography,” scheduled to publish this fall.

The interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Q: How people should use “World Travel” until they feel safe to get on an airplane again?

A: A lot of people really loved what Tony did with his writing and with television and were never going to be travelers in that way. But they were able to learn about the world through his travel and storytelling, and I think this book fits that need. Then for people who have traveled quite a bit and are feeling nostalgic for that travel, there’s something sort of pleasurable about reading Tony’s experiences. I say this in the introduction: The book is not a comprehensive guide to the world.

Q: The book is almost as much a compendium of Tony’s observations as it is a travel guide, sort of like “The Incomplete Anthony Bourdain.” That idea is reinforced by the way the book is printed. All of Tony’s words are boldfaced for easy reference.

A: When you’re watching the shows, he’s such a brilliant writer and so brilliant on his feet, and so much of that would go by so quickly as you’re watching the beautiful visuals and the cinematography. So to have the words that he carefully chose, to have them in this format, I think it is a different experience altogether.

Q: I’m curious about the conversation that you had with Tony that served as the blueprint for the book. What was the gist of what he wanted to do?

A: One of our early inspirations for how we wanted the book to feel, beyond just being things that Tony loved or things that were weird, was the “Atlas Obscura” book. That’s a really beautiful book and has maybe one or two attractions from every place in the world. So, you know, there’s plenty of stuff in the book that isn’t weird, that’s very middle of the road.

Q: How did the book evolve as you went along in the process?

A: On the day we had this conversation, he wasn’t recalling a lot about Lebanon. And, of course, anyone who followed him knows that Lebanon was hugely important to him. He and his crew were caught in a war there in 2006. He went back twice, and it was a place that he loved. Were he around, he would have said, “Listen, we