OPINION: On the loss of an idol

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OPINION: On the loss of an idol

Sabrina Naser

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Growing up, I never had a celebrity crush. I never had a superstar I looked up to, no plastering their blinding-white smiling faces on my locker, no begging for meet-and-greet tickets or autographs on posters.

Something about it all seemed off.

I couldn’t even try to imagine what it would take for me to deem someone worthy of God-like status and religious devotion. How could someone possibly connect so deeply with a person they’d never even met, much less held a conversation with? All celebrity personas are mere PR staff constructions anyway, so even if the star seemed like someone I’d get along with, you wouldn’t catch me dead writing fan mail to their P.O. box in LA.

But then there was Anthony Bourdain.

The day I first watched “Parts Unknown”, out sick with a cold, I was thrown off. This guy was so honest, so raw, so real. A stark difference to the other travel-show host counterparts, with their perpetual smiles and glossy beaches at Western resorts, this man’s dark humor and cheekiness charmed everyone he met — wherever he went.

Even the cinematography blew me away, with producer Zach Zamboni’s creativity blending of the place’s food, people and geography to create a mood unique to each episode.

Anthony Bourdain didn’t just show me Hallmark tourist destinations from around the world. He told a story. He showed me how intimate the relationship between a place’s people and their food was. He showed me a place’s rebels and misfits, its grittiness and luster, its past and more importantly, its future.

Always having a local guide lead the way and co-host alongside him, Anthony was on the same level as us. He wasn’t talking down from an omniscient pedestal teaching us history book facts about a place. He was learning about it with us. This is what set him apart for me and what fueled my love for his TV series and books alike.

On June 8, 2018, Anthony Bourdain died by suicide.

I grieved for him as I would’ve a friend. I found myself looking for signs, in his episodes and social media posts, with one thought running through my mind: How did we miss it?

In loving him for his bluntness and sarcasm, I had forgotten my own concern with idolizing celebrities: that what you see on the screen is not all they are. More than this, I had learned that my very concept of what holding an idol meant was flawed. Anthony Bourdain openly talked about his demons, his battles with addiction and depression. No, I didn’t plaster his face on my locker or beg for an autograph. No, I had not met him, much less had a conversation with him. Yet I still felt that connection. I still heard his voice when I read his books, I still felt the silent understanding he had for everyone who was hurting.

Fans left flowers and letters for the late chef on the storefront of his Les Halles restaurant in New York City after his death. The restaurant permanently closed in 2017.

I still don’t believe in idolizing other people, especially celebrities. But I do believe that even after death, we can still learn from the lessons that they left for us. We can find bits of ourselves within them, and we can allow them to inspire us to be a better person than we were the day before.

Anthony Bourdain’s death had affected the world, but not nearly as much as his life had.

“The journey changes you. It should change you. It leaves marks on your memory, your consciousness, your heart and on your body. You take something with you and, hopefully, you leave something good behind,” Bourdain said in his Lagos episode.

If you would like to share a way Anthony Bourdain impacted your life, CNN is compiling memories shared with him here and posting responses here.

 If you feel you need help or just want to talk about the topic, call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline, at 1-800-273-8255.