Before he traveled the world, sampling foods from foreign countries and adding a bite of attitude to his television show, “Parts Unknown,” Anthony Bourdain was a shaggy-haired 17-year-old without a care in the world, basking in the sun on the beaches of Provincetown and washing dishes at a local restaurant in the early 1970s.
“It was where I first landed,” Bourdain reminisced, during a 2014 episode of his popular television series that aired on CNN. “It was paradise.”
But his time in Massachusetts, and the celebrity chef’s humble beginnings, also marked a dark turn in his life, as he developed what he called a “taste for chemicals” that eventually lead to heroin use.
As news of Bourdain’s apparent suicide at 61 sent shockwaves across the Internet on Friday morning, many reflected on his early years — a time when Bourdain didn’t know if he was going to be a chef, let alone a household name, author, and culinary inspiration — and his close ties to Massachusetts.
During his time in Provincetown, Bourdain, who later went on to write the critically acclaimed book, “Kitchen Confidential,” shared a house on the beach with a group of high school friends. One day, he said, he was told by the group that he would be a dishwasher at one of the local haunts — The Flagship Restaurant — since he was living as a freeloader and not helping pay the rent. From there, he “fell in love with the whole business and the whole subculture.”
In the roughly 43-minute episode, Bourdain uproots these memories as he strolls through downtown Provincetown, pointing out the many establishments where he either worked, or spent time drinking and partying with his friends and coworkers.
“Who else got to live like that at the time?” Bourdain said of the carefree lifestyle he enjoyed back then. “You sort of had to be in a band, and here we were — we were dishwashers.”
During his walk down memory lane, Bourdain returned to the house where it all began: a squat, two-story dwelling steps from the sandy shoreline.
“This is a nice house. I mean, it feels like I just never left in a lot of ways,” he said in the episode. “Of course, it’s 40 years later almost.”
Bourdain said following that milestone summer in Provincetown was when things started to shift for him, however.
He left Cape Cod with restaurant experience and a suntan, and then headed off to culinary school and later, New York. But he also left with something else: An “ever-deepening relationship with recreational drugs.”
Throughout the episode, Bourdain switches between his culinary explorations and highlighting the heroin epidemic in Massachusetts. He visits Greenfield, in the western part of the state, to speak with a former-dealer-turned-informant, and with police officers who are on the front lines of the ever-worsening drug problem.
After examining how the heroin epidemic started, Bourdain begins to weave a narrative that shines a light on both hidden food gems in Western Mass. — an old-timey bowling alley and a diner specializing in boiled dinner, for example — and residents who have grappled with addiction.
By the end of the episode, Bourdain, sitting in a room with others in recovery, candidly reflects on how he finally confronted his own demons. According to an interview with Biography.com in 2016, Bourdain stopped using heroin in the 1980s.
“I looked in a mirror and I saw somebody worth saving, or that I wanted to at least try real hard and save,” he said. “I look back on that, and I think about what I’ll tell my daughter. You know, that was daddy, ain’t no doubt about it. But I hope that I’ll be able to say that was daddy then, this is daddy now — that I’m alive, and living, and hope.”
If you or someone you know is having suicidal thoughts or planning self-harm, there are resources available to help:
The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline
A 24-hour, toll-free, confidential suicide prevention hot line available to anyone in suicidal crisis or emotional distress.
The Massachusetts Coalition for Suicide Prevention
An alliance of suicide prevention advocates. The website contains resources and information: www.masspreventssuicide.org
Crisis Text Line
Crisis Text Line is free, 24/7 support for those in crisis. Text 741741 from anywhere in the US to text with a trained Crisis Counselor.
Text 741741 to talk with a real-life human being trained to bring texters from a hot moment to a cool calm through active listening and collaborative problem solving.
Riverside Trauma Center
Offers services and referrals after traumatic events. The center’s Crisis Response Line is answered 24 hours.
The Trevor Helpline
This crisis intervention and suicide prevention hotline is focused on LGBTQ youth.