It was the middle of the afternoon, Friday - June 8th, and the only thing anyone in America was talking about was writer and celebrity chef Anthony Bourdain's unexpected suicide. Office water coolers, kitchen tables and social media flooded with discussion about the surprise death of a man whom many believed was at the height of his career.
But before he was a jet-setting international TV star and author, millions of talk radio listeners around the country knew of Bourdain as a frequent guest on the talk show of radio legend Mancow Muller. Anyone who ever listened to Mancow's show knew they were good friends. Before Bourdain's hit TV shows and best selling books became staples of the foodie-hipster scene, he would appear on Mancow's show every time he was in Chicago. They also did TV together on several occasions, beginning with the time Mancow guest starred on the Travel Channel's No Reservations in 2008.
Considering their years of experiences together, it shouldn't surprise anyone that when Mancow heard of Anthony's passing, it was a painful and terrifying shock. Although, sadly, there were plenty of warning signs.
"We're heart broken and my family is praying for his daughter," Mancow told me during a phone conversation the day of Anthony's death.
He had a concerned sound in his voice. It was obvious this was the only thing that had been on Mancow's mind that day. After all, they vacationed in Sint Maarten together years ago before Anthony became a household name. Back then Bourdain and Mancow spent their time driving around the island in a rusty old car listening to fuzzy music blaring out of a barely-working AM radio while they sang along to classic rock tunes. Their destination? Local drinking holes and exotic eating destinations, of course. After all, this is Anthony Bourdain we're talking about - even before he became extremely famous he was still the definitive expert at finding the best food and drinks in obscure locations of the globe. They spent the whole day laughing and singing together, which is part of the reason why Mancow was so stunned by what happened next.
"That night he went back to his hotel and almost killed himself," Mancow said. "He wrote about it 10 years later in one of his books."
Mancow explained how it was difficult for him to understand why someone who looked so happy on the surface could be so torn apart inside.
"I was always shocked when I learned that on that great day when we were laughing and being happy he was secretly thinking about suicide."
Mancow was no stranger to witnessing celebrity tragedy. Years earlier he watched another young talent and good friend, comedian Chris Farley, deal with similar depression and addiction issues. Farley, another frequent talk show guest and personal real life friend to Mancow, died in 1997 of a drug overdose. The last time Mancow spoke with Farley it was the day before he died. They talked about how he was excited for the coming new year and seeing his family over Christmas. Mancow could tell even then that he didn't look well.
Just like Farley, Bourdain appeared on Muller's radio show a countless number of times to talk about food, politics and philosophy.
"We would argue about Obama," Mancow said. "He was enamored with Obama and Clinton and I never got their charm."
They also had a complicated relationship when it came to the issue of God. Mancow, a devout Christian, would have debates with Bourdain about the existence of a higher power.
"We often disputed the existence of an afterlife," Mancow said. "I believed in the great beyond. He didn't. Right now he knows the ultimate truth and whether I had it right or not."
Even still, despite differences relating to God and politics, they remained friends and old drinking buddies for the better part of two decades.
Of all the subjects the two men discussed on or off the air, the topic Mancow found the most disturbing related to his friend's former addiction issues.
Bourdain told of stories about his experiences with heroin, "And they were about as depraved and horrific as you would imagine," Mancow said.
He told Mancow about visiting drug dens in New York when he was at rock bottom. But then he would talk about going from being as low as you can go to having a hit TV show all over the world and dating Asia Argento. From a drug house to the red carpet, that was the story of Anthony's life.
"He enjoyed fine dining, but he really loved hole in the wall food destinations," Mancow said. "He dealt with fame with a shrug. When I met him he was just getting started as a writer and he was a cynical cigarette-stained kind of guy, but as comfortable as an old shoe to hang out with and, even after he became internationally known, he never changed. I remember Anthony once told me, 'Mancow it doesn't matter if it's a $10 bowl of pasta at La Scarola or a $2500 meal from Alinea, it all flushes the same way down the toilet the next day.'"
But the highs were high and the lows were even lower.
"After a while, with Anthony, everywhere he'd go people would roll out the red carpet," Mancow said "And when every meal is a great meal, you become numb to it. You become numb to the feeling of celebrity. It doesn't mean anything."
Now, just like with Farley, Mancow watched another of the most talented of his social circle meet a foreseeable and abrupt end. Because people who commit suicide have, at some point, lost touch with the spark of the divine that is in every human being. When you lose touch with that sense of grace and wonder, the demons takeover, and eventually they consume you.
Ken Webster Jr is a writer, producer and radio personality from Houston Tx.
Sandra Peterson also contributed to this article.
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