A new book is shedding light on the final days of the late Anthony Bourdain.
The travel host died by suicide in June 2018 at age 61 while in Kaysersberg, France to film an episode of his series Parts Unknown with close friend and French chef, Eric Ripert. PEOPLE reported at the time that “he was giddy” in the weeks before his death because of the release of the CNN show’s Hong Kong episode, which was directed by Bourdain’s girlfriend Asia Argento.
But the Italian actress and Bourdain, who was still married to his estranged wife Ottavia Busia at the time of his death, had a troubled relationship, as is revealed in an exclusive excerpt below from Down and Out in Paradise by Charles Leerhsen (out Oct. 11). The unauthorized biography includes his well-documented rise to fame from a Vassar College dropout to a food superstar who traveled 250 days out of the year. How Down and Out in Paradise stands apart from the handful of other works which set out to tell Bourdain’s story, is with intimate details from his final days in France, taken largely from texts and emails on his phone and laptop.
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Argento said in Sept. 2018 that the pair “cheated” on each other. “It wasn’t a problem for us,” she said. A fight via text with Argento, included in the book and below, after she was spotted by paparazzi with French journalist Hugo Clément, tells a different story.
Anthony Bourdain and Asia Argento
Reads one of Bourdain’s last texts: “You were reckless with my heart.”
(Argento did not respond to PEOPLE’s request for comment, but told the New York Times, “I wrote clearly to [Leerhsen] that he could not publish anything I said to him.”)
Simon & Schuster Down and Out in Paradise by Charles Leerhsen
It seemed like all they did was fight. Mostly she complained about him being too possessive. Later Argento would say, “I always told him my kids came first, my work came second, and he came third.” One of his main worries, though, was that he would someday come fourth or fifth, behind her man or men of the moment. It wasn’t simple jealousy that was gnawing at him, he tried to explain in private exchanges with her; it was his fear that she would destroy their chances of sharing their lives by getting involved with outsiders. The distinction may seem subtle, but it was important to him.
Their relationship had by June 2018 evolved into something bizarrely complicated and decadent even by the standards of celebrities and others not bound by the usual societal—or logical— considerations. As far as he knew, she hadn’t been with anyone else in their time together except her ex-husband, Civetta—though both agreed they theoretically had every right to have additional lovers (as long he steered clear of Ottavia). He apparently had maintained no side relationships since meeting her except for the prostitutes he continued to frequent, presumably telling himself they didn’t count because there was no emotional involvement and because he and Argento were so frequently separated. Meanwhile he did his best to keep Argento loyal to him by giving her money and moral support as well as by ingesting large amounts of steroids, human growth hormone, and Viagra so that his age was less likely to come between them. It was this world-class mess of what had once been a love affair that Tony was desperately trying to keep going when—with him just settling in to begin the Kaysersberg shoot with Eric Ripert—Argento showed up on the paparazzi websites cavorting in the streets of Rome (and in the lobby of the Hotel de Russie, where she and Tony had enjoyed romantic interludes) with a handsome young French journalist named Hugo Clément. Sometimes, if rarely, the ZPZ crew had welcomed Tony and Asia’s phone fights, thinking they might end in a permanent breakup. These phone fights were different.
A mysterious Twitter account called @justicefortony—it has since been taken down but it is thought to have belonged to a member of the ZPZ crew—put out the word that Tony and Argento “started fighting on Tuesday, June 5. Tony had to leave the set multiple times to talk to her on the phone. Things escalated on Wednesday when by all accounts she told him she no longer wanted to be with him. Everyone was keeping an eye on him all day and night because he was incredibly distraught. More screaming phone calls through the day. By Thursday he seemed to be better and kind of wanted everyone to back off.”
One possible reason for his elevated mood was that he’d had a good time the night before when, with the cameras rolling, he and Ripert had visited a two Michelin star restaurant called JY’s in the nearby town of Colmar. The proprietor and chef, Jean-Yves Schillinger, had met Tony fifteen years earlier when he’d had a place in New York City; and as Tony and Ripert experienced his high-toned take on Alsatian cooking, memories came rolling back on waves of crisp local whites. Toward the end of the meal, Schillinger, a handsome blond Frenchman of fifty-five, proposed that he, Tony, Ripert, and the crew make a beer run to Freiburg, Germany, thirty miles to the southeast, for a nightcap—and off they all went like a bunch of spring breakers. Parts Unknown was not regularly broadcast in Kaysersberg, which accounted for Tony’s anonymity there, but it did air in Freiburg, and as soon as Tony entered the crowded beer garden he became Anthony Bourdain again, the recipient of allos, prosts, and hearty handshakes, all of which he returned with a wide smile. “He enjoyed every minute of it,” Schillinger told me when I visited his restaurant. “He lit up like the Tony I once knew. Everything was normal.”
That night before he went to bed, Ripert, who had the room next door to Tony’s at their hotel, Le Chambard, and who had of course been worried about his friend, put his ear to the wall and heard peaceful snoring, and slept better himself as a result.
His whole adult life, drinking and eating with friends had been Tony’s definition of joy. And he had a particular affection for the hearty cuisine in that sauerkraut-scented corner of the world. But the night out with friends, away from his phone, may well have triggered a moment of self-discovery. By briefly reliving his past with Schillinger and Ripert and his crew, he may have gotten a glimpse of how far he had come. By experiencing what he had been, he may have seen more clearly what he’d turned into—a character out of a sordid, slightly deranged James Ellroy novel, a doomed and desperate lover who hired a private detective to soil an obscure kid actor for the sake of a woman who respected him less for each effort he made on her behalf. The kind of man who had talented, loyal people living in constant fear of being banished from a show for which they’d worked hard and given up much to make great. It was an especially horrible thing for Tony to learn about himself, that he had lost his integrity in pursuit of a woman who seemed to spend her life performing for the paparazzi and clowning on Instagram, but perhaps there was some consolation and peace in finally seeing things for what they were.
The next day Tony was fighting with Argento again. She was pulling out of the India episode in which she’d been scheduled to appear, she said, because she couldn’t stand him and his possessiveness. His browsing history showed that in the last three days of his life he googled “Asia Argento” several hundred times. On the night before he died he was involved in a text exchange with her:
AB: 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. De Russie . . . It’s only that that hurts’, my A.
Perhaps it’s in both our characters. But you are always honest with me. I want to be honest with you.
I do not begrudge you this part of you.
As I hope you will not begrudge me.
But it’s that that stings.
I meant and mean everything I have ever said to you. But I hope you will have mercy on me for these feelings.
AA: I can’t take this.
Argento goes on by saying that she can no longer stay in her relationship with Bourdain, who has shown that he is all too similar to the other men she has dated.
AB: It would have been so easy to have helped me out here. I required so little. But “f— you” is your answer.
As they continue their dialogue, she complains about his “idiot possessiveness,” calls him a “ducking [sic] bourgeois,” and tells him to “call the f—ing doctor.” “I am the victim here,” she says.
AB: My A. I can’t believe you have so little affection or respect for me that you would be without empathy for this.
After the next day’s shoot, Tony turned down Ripert’s suggestion of dinner and went out by himself. He ate a lot and drank a lot. Ripert got up in the middle of the night and again put his ear to the wall, but he heard nothing.
From Down and Out in Paradise © 2022 by Charles Leerhsen, published by Simon & Schuster on October 11, 2022.
If you or someone you know is considering suicide, please contact the 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline by dialing 988, text “STRENGTH” to the Crisis Text Line at 741741 or go to 988lifeline.org.