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A scene from Roadrunner: A Film About Anthony Bourdain. The documentary explores the life and tragic death of the chef and TV host who “was addicted to everything”. Photo: AP

Anthony Bourdain film Roadrunner explores the celebrity chef and TV host’s life, addictions and tragic death

  • Director Morgan Neville, who won an Academy Award for his 2013 documentary 20 Feet from Stardom, loved Bourdain for his ‘punk rock attitude about everything’
  • At first a fun romp through Bourdain’s sudden rise to fame, the film takes a dark turn as friends and colleagues reflect on the months leading up to his death

There’s no happy ending, as the late Anthony Bourdain is heard saying in a new documentary about his life, but that doesn’t mean you can’t have fun along the way.

Roadrunner: A Film About Anthony Bourdain, which premiered at the Tribeca Festival in New York on June 11, dives into the highs and lows of the chef turned TV host and world traveller who tragically took his life three years ago. 

“Tony was one of the good guys,” says Morgan Neville, who directed Roadrunner. “He was fighting the good fight. He was trying to open people’s minds and showing the world to people and showing how, if you break bread with people, we all want the same thing.

“He was a real champion of things that I thought were important in the world of breaking down the hierarchies of food and culture and politics and championing the little guy,” the filmmaker adds.

The chef turned TV host and world traveller tragically took his life three years ago. Photo: TNS

Neville, who won an Academy Award for 20 Feet from Stardom, his 2013 documentary about backing vocalists, says it was also Bourdain’s “punk rock attitude about everything” that drew him to explore his life.

“He had the best taste in movies, in books and music,” Neville says. So as the director combed through footage to use in his film, he jotted down every time Bourdain mentioned a song and created a 19-hour playlist.

Anthony Bourdain ate here: some of the chef’s Hong Kong haunts

“It’s all of Tony’s music,” he adds. “It’s Brian Eno and Iggy Pop and Johnny Thunders – it’s all these songs from his whole life, and I gave that to everybody that worked on the film to listen to and the songs on the film come out of that playlist. So the music was another way of getting inside his head.”

To fill in the rest, Neville drew from Bourdain’s on-screen work – including the Food Network’s A Cook’s Tour, Travel Channel’s No Reservations and CNN’s Parts Unknown – using both aired and unseen moments.

He also conducted fresh interviews with many who worked with the former chef on those shows. And he spoke to Bourdain’s friends, brother and second wife, Ottavia Busia, the mother of his only child, Ariane.

Director Morgan Neville attends the 2021 Tribeca Festival premiere of Roadrunner at Brookfield Place in New York. Photo: Getty Images

Roadrunner viewers will see all the happy moments, from Bourdain playing in the pool with his daughter, to his rise to fame and inspiring world travels. But the film covers his struggles as well, from his past drug addictions to his constant battle to be happy and fulfilled amid the success.

“Tony was very open about his own journey,” Neville recalls. “Kitchen Confidential, it’s a pretty raw autobiography, he talks about being a junkie and scoring and bottoming out. But I feel like there was a real depressive streak and a kind of a manic quality to him that went up and down throughout his life.

“As people described it more, I really came to understand his swings and that Tony was an addict and he was addicted to everything. Yes, he was addicted to, at different points, drugs and cigarettes, but he also was addicted to jiu-jitsu and work and women. 

“I think he felt like the rigour of work, either in the kitchen or doing the show, was the kind of obsession that kept him on the straight and narrow. And other times, his addictive tendencies just became destructive.”

Ultimately, if someone doesn’t deal with addiction, it’s going to get the better of them, Neville says. “And Tony never really went to rehab, he never really went through the kinds of things most addicts do at some point in their life, to come to terms with it.”

Bourdain enjoys a meal in Oman during season five of Parts Unknown. Photo: CNN

While the early parts of the two-hour film are an energetic and fun romp through Bourdain’s rise, the end takes a dark turn as friends and colleagues reflect on the months leading up to his death.

Several interview subjects paint a toxic picture of the romantic relationship Bourdain had with Italian actress Asia Argento, who was photographed holding hands with and hugging a French reporter just days before Bourdain ended his life on June 8, 2018, at age 61.

Bordain and Asia Argento attend the 2017 Creative Arts Emmy Awards at the Microsoft Theatre, Los Angeles, California. Photo: Getty Images

The interviewees point to various ways the relationship allegedly affected his personal and professional life.

“There are definitely a lot of raw feelings,” Neville says. “The things that I like to concentrate on when I think about Tony, was, he didn’t judge anybody. He had a tattoo that said, ‘I’m certain of nothing,’ and I think he had this Zen quality that made him incredibly open-minded about things. 

“And that’s the thing about travel that he talked about all the time. That it’s not what you see, it’s what you take home with you.”

If you are having suicidal thoughts, or you know someone who is, help is available. For Hong Kong, dial +852 2896 0000 for The Samaritans or +852 2382 0000 for Suicide Prevention Services. In the US, call The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline on +1 800 273 8255. For a list of other nations’ helplines, see  this page.