Andrew Zimmern now hosts his own travel shows, such as Bizarre Foods With Andrew Zimmern and The Zimmern List, and he appears regularly on Live! With Kelly, Rachael Ray and other popular shows. His life is completely different than when he was a homeless alcoholic and drug addict a few decades ago.
“I didn’t shower for a year. Every night, I slept on a pile of dirty clothes on the floor that I called my bed. I didn’t really sleep; it was more like passing out,” Zimmern told Artful Living for its spring issue. “Every couple days, I would steal a bottle of Comet cleanser that I would pour in a circle around my sleeping area so rats and roaches wouldn’t crawl over me in the middle of the night. And I thought that was OK and normal. That’s how bad it was.”
Zimmern’s mother had suffered brain damage after being administered the wrong anesthesia for surgery when he was very young, and he ended up living in the apartment they had once shared with only a nanny and a housekeeper to look after him. Without much supervision, Zimmern said he began drinking and doing drugs at a young age and he knew addiction was an issue for him even before college.
“I very quickly started doing pills, cocaine, hallucinogens. By the time I went to college, I had already experimented with heroin,” Zimmern said. “So when I got to college, the gloves came off, and I became a typical New York garbage head. Whatever was around was my drug of choice.”
He didn’t reach what he considers his low point until 1990, when friends began telling him that his drinking was scaring them around the same time that he was evicted from his apartment.
“I had no one to call, no one’s couch to crash on,” Zimmern said. “Everyone had had enough.”
At one point, Zimmern decided to drink until his body “broke down.” After a few days, though, he decided to reach out to a friend, who happened to be planning an intervention for him, and Zimmern got help. He ended up in a treatment program, followed by several months at a halfway house that required him to get a job. He washed dishes in his early days there.
Zimmern said he still regularly attends AA meetings.
“I believe we are all just an arm’s length away from that next drink or drug,” he said. “My disease has not gone away; it’s just dormant inside me. I have to remind myself that my disease is just in there exercising and doing pushups, waiting for me to stop doing the things that keep me well. But I also know that as long as I keep doing the things that keep me well, I’m going to stay well.”
Because of that, Zimmern strongly believes the country should treat addiction and other mental health issues just as it treats medical health problems.
“I think it’s shameful [the way it is treated]. Actually, it’s beyond shameful. It’s criminal. And I’m choosing my words carefully here,” said Zimmern, who’s still in shock over the June 2018 suicide of his friend and fellow traveler Anthony Bourdain. “I don’t think it’s too dramatic to say that ignoring our fellow Americans in need and watching them die when they could have been helped is its own form of genocide. I think ignoring these crises in our country is bordering on criminal at this point.”
Zimmern revealed that he learned of Bourdain’s death when he woke up to 80 missed calls and 220 texts, from everyone he knows in the restaurant and food industry.
“I started to read some of the notes, and I started to cry. I called my crew and said, ‘We’re not going to work today at 11. I need some time.’ It was just an awful, awful, awful day,” Zimmern said. “It wasn’t until many hours later that the shock… because your first… this is someone you know. He’s your friend. There’s stuff to do, people to call. Then as the day went on, we were reminded what a symphonic presence he had and how culturally important he was to so many people. And the shock —I still can’t believe he’s not with us.”
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