On Anthony Bourdain and the Mask of Masculinity ll Rich Brodt

On Anthony Bourdain and the Mask of Masculinity 
By: Rich Brodt

I don’t often ruminate on celebrities passing away. However, this week Anthony Bourdain took his own life. This shocked me and also didn’t shock me. I have been watching his television series’ for the past fifteen years or so. In his earlier work, he was wild, energetic, and probed deep into the cultures he explored. This often involved the consumption of more than a healthy amount of alcohol. Visibly intoxicated on camera, Anthony would wax philosophical, and it became clear to me that his mind was capable of going to some very dark places – this fact has always remained obvious in his humor.

            After those early years, he gained traction and seemed to have more creative control over his programming. He clearly had an eye for cinematography, music and making the viewer feel something visceral. He had a gift that became clear to many, and if one watched from his earlier years he clearly progressed as a person, and seemed to mature, his views softening as he talked about raising his daughter. It looked as though he had dealt with his demons. He avidly studied and trained jiu jitsu, and seemed to get his health issues in order as well.

            Then, on location in France, while in the middle of filming a new episode of his show with one of his closest friends, Eric Ripert, it is reported that he hung himself. This close friend, it is also reported, was the one who had to find him unresponsive that morning. Anthony Bourdain is a man who seemed to have a whole lot going for him. He had a continued spot as a host on an award winning program, and was receiving his paycheck for traveling the world, connecting with people and eating interesting food.

From an outside perspective, many would think of that life as a dream come true. Obviously, it wasn’t.

            The suicide rate in American has been creeping up since the last 1990s. Though woman attempt suicide twice as often, men are 3.5 times more likely to complete a suicide. And white men make up far more than half of all completed suicides in America.

We should be shocked when we read these numbers.

            Looking at the statistics, more of us should be asking why men, and white men in particular, are committing suicide at such high rates. And as I’ve been trying to make sense of Anthony Bourdain’s death, I wondered what role masculinity plays in these suicide rates. In my practice, young men in there 20s and 30s make up a relatively large portion of my clientele. For the most part, if I am their first therapist, they report never having been given the time and space to express themselves in a vulnerable manner. The longer they wait, the harder it is to get them to open up – some resist for months or years. When I ask what the benefit of withholding their emotions has been, most seem stunned to learn that it hasn’t benefited them. Rather, they have seen their relationships dissolve as a result of their lack of emotional awareness.

Instead, most of these men wore masks.

             They had different masks for different people, all of which concealed the pain they were dealing with in their personal lives. They report not wanting to burden others with their emotions, not feeling safe discussing emotions with their partners, receiving messages early on in life that expressing emotion was not OK. This leads to a man who does not know himself. A man who does not know himself has a difficult time finding something in himself that it worth saving.

            So maybe there is some value in this death. Maybe more men can open their eyes to the fact that suffering is not uncommon – that it is OK to admit that one feels pain, and that there is help out there for those willing to seek it, that life can be rich and full of expression. In the end, I don’t know what drove Anthony Bourdain to take his own life, but I do know that he had people around him that would have been willing to help if he asked.

The fact that he didn’t is a tragedy.

Rich Brodt is a former intern at People House, and is currently a co-owner and private practitioner at Elevated Counseling, PLLC in the Highlands area of Denver. Prior to training to become a therapist, Rich practiced as a mental health litigation attorney in New York City, where he first became passionate about the field. Rich draws on knowledge of law, philosophy and poetry, bringing a unique perspective to his sessions. 

Rich’s current practice utilizes a client-centered approach, integrating Gestalt, existential and depth approaches. He focuses his practice trauma and anxiety-related issues, including PTSD, high-stress careers, life transitions and other major stressors. Rich’s first priority in counseling is to create a safe, non-judgmental space, where clients can feel comfortable sharing and processing their most difficult thoughts. 


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