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'Brilliant, fearless spirit': Fans and friends mourn Anthony Bourdain, dead at 61

File photo of Anthony Bourdain, in New York, his home when he was not on the road, Sept. 20, 2015. (Alex Welsh/Copyright 2018 The New York Times)

Anthony Bourdain, the chef who became a world-traveling storyteller, has died at age 61, according to CNN.

He died in France while working on an episode of his CNN show, "Parts Unknown." Bourdain was found unresponsive in his hotel room by a close friend, French chef Eric Ripert, Friday morning, CNN said. The cause of his death was suicide.

In a statement, the network said:

"It is with extraordinary sadness we can confirm the death of our friend and colleague, Anthony Bourdain. His love of great adventure, new friends, fine food and drink and the remarkable stories of the world made him a unique storyteller. His talents never ceased to amaze us and we will miss him very much. Our thoughts and prayers are with his daughter and family at this incredibly difficult time."

Bourdain was best known for his travel shows, where he told the stories of people and cultures from around the world through the food they ate. "Parts Unknown" was the latest in that series. Since premiering in 2013, the program has won five Emmy awards, and a Peabody.

As news of Bourdain's death spread on Friday morning, those who knew him and his work reacted with sadness and shock.

"Anthony was a dear friend," Ripert told the New York Times. "He was an exceptional human being, so inspiring and generous. One of the great storytellers of our time who connected with so many. I wish him peace. My love and prayers are with his family, friends and loved ones."

Italian actress Asia Argento, who had been Bourdain's long-time girlfriend, said in a statement posted on Twitter: "Anthony gave all of of himself in everything that he did. His brilliant, fearless spirit touched and inspired so many, and his generosity knew no bounds. he was my love, my rock, my protector. I am beyond devastated. My thoughts are with his family. I would ask that you respect their privacy and mine."

In 2016, President Barack Obama dined with Bourdain in Hanoi for an episode of the program. They sat on plastic stools in a family-run restaurant, eating bun cha, a dish special to Hanoi. "We'll miss him," Obama tweeted.

"I think it's very sad. I want to extend to his family my heartfelt condolences," said President Donald Trump as he left the White House Friday morning. "I enjoyed his show. He was quite a character."

The tributes from famed chefs and others touched by Bourdain's work flooded Twitter.

"You still had so many places to show us, whispering to our souls the great possibilities beyond what we could see with our own eyes," chef José Andrés tweeted. "You only saw beauty in all people. You will always travel with me."

In recent months, Bourdain had emerged as an ally for the #MeToo movement, as his girlfriend Argento came forward to accuse disgraced Hollywood producer Harvey Weinstein of rape. He acknowledged that he had contributed to the restaurant industry's "meathead culture" and promoted the stories of Argento and other women.

Rose McGowan, who has also accused Weinstein of rape, posted a series of tweets mourning Bourdain's death on Friday morning. "You were so loved, the world is not better without you," she wrote in one.

Bourdain's suicide comes days after designer Kate Spade's, prompting mental health and suicide prevention organizations to urge individuals to reach out.

"We're saddened to hear of the tragic loss of Anthony Bourdain," the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline posted on social media. "Please know you are never alone, no matter how dark or lonely things may seem. If you're struggling, reach out: call 1-800-273-TALK (8255). We're here for you, 24/7/365."

"It's also important to know warning signs and risk factors for suicide, that way you can better support others," reads a tweet from the National Alliance on Mental Health. Those warning signs include making threats or comments about killing oneself, social withdrawal and increased alcohol and drug use.

Bourdain was already a cultural phenomenon before moving to CNN. "Parts Unknown" was preceded by "No Reservations," on the Travel Channel. But it was Bourdain's writing that first cemented his place as a storyteller.

His 1999 New Yorker article, "Don't Eat Before Reading This," brought readers into the New York kitchens where Bourdain worked for years. A year later, the article became the best-selling book "Kitchen Confidential."

In 2002, as Bourdain became an international celebrity, he explained in a live Washington Post chat what it was like to move from "chef" to "celebrity chef."

"No one's more confused by the celebrity chef thing than chefs. The idea that chefs are sex symbols would be hilarious to anyone who's ever dated one or been married to one," Bourdain wrote. "We smell of smoked salmon and garlic, we have beef fat under our fingernails, we stay out late, drink too much, are never home and when we are home are comotose (sic), distracted and unpleasant. Is that sexy?"

Bourdain also became a vocal advocate for Washington Post journalist Jason Rezaian, who was imprisoned by Iranian officials for 544 days. Rezaian's forthcoming memoir had been acquired by Bourdain, who has an imprint with Ecco, a division of HarperCollins.

The CNN host interviewed Rezaian and his wife, journalist Yeganeh Salehi, in Iran for a 2014 "Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown" episode. Weeks later, the couple was arrested.

"This wonderful couple is a danger to no one," Bourdain wrote in a Post column at the time. "They are nobody's enemy. They are without blame or malice."

Although Bourdain was known as a celebrity chef, he was known for drawing out and telling the stories of other people.

"What I do is not complicated," Bourdain told the New York Times in 2005. "Any stranger who shows an honest curiosity about what the locals think is the best food is going to be welcomed. When you eat their food and you seem happy, people sitting around a table open up and interesting things happen."

Talk to someone now

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline 1-800-273-8255.  If you’re thinking about suicide, are worried about a friend or loved one, or would like emotional support, the Lifeline network is available 24/7 across the United States. 

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Story by Abby Ohlheiser. Ohlheiser covers digital culture for The Washington Post. She was previously a general assignment reporter for The Post, focusing on national breaking news and religion. Elahe Izadi is a pop culture writer for The Washington Post. Prior to joining The Post in 2014 as a general assignment reporter, she covered Congress, race and local news. She has worked for National Journal, WAMU, TBD.com and The Gazette community newspapers. The Washington Post's John Wagner contributed to this report.

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