Anthony Bourdain doc explores chef's 'tortured' life: 'He cared way too much about everything'

Last month, fans once again mourned the death of Anthony Bourdain, who died by suicide three years ago on June 8, 2018. He was 61.

Now, the late TV personality is memorialized in the emotionally searing new documentary "Roadrunner: A Film About Anthony Bourdain" (in limited theaters now).

Directed by Morgan Neville (who helmed the Oscar-winning documentary "20 Feet From Stardom"), "Roadrunner" is a captivating portrait of Bourdain as a restless spirit and live wire: a man whose romantic ideas of relationships and fatherhood clashed with his impulse toward extremes. The movie charts his rise from struggling restaurateur to New York Times bestselling author to renegade star of CNN's "Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown," which used global cuisines as a window into other cultures.

The documentary has been a hit in specialty theaters, earning $3.7 million at the box office in its first two weeks of release.

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Neville had read Bourdain's 2000 food memoir "Kitchen Confidential" and always trusted his taste, although he wasn't a "superfan" prior to making this film.

"He was a very specific flavor of person," Neville says. "He was, as he said, an old-time New York punk-rock lefty. That's a niche type of character yet he crossed over to everybody. When he died, that was my sadness, like, we don't get any more of that. What he was doing was not only cool and entertaining but necessary (in) opening people's minds and making people see the rest of the world."

In addition to interviews with Bourdain's close friends and family, Neville pulls from home movies, TV segments and never-aired footage of the beloved celebrity chef. Collaborators recall being drawn to his brazen style and endless curiosity, but also how he struggled with loneliness and depression, joking about death and suicide frequently. He grappled with drug addiction as a young man but later found some solace in therapy and jujitsu.

"He could be like a 15-year-old boy. He could be immature," Neville says. And yet, "he was the opposite of jaded. That's part of what made him so great to go on these journeys with. He was genuinely excited and engaged by what he saw."

His second wife, Ottavia Busia, is a mixed martial arts fighter. The two married in 2007 and had one daughter, Ariane, 14, together before splitting in 2016. Busia, who is interviewed in the documentary, says they grew apart partly because of Bourdain’s constant traveling, while Bourdain was heartbroken after their divorce that he couldn’t be the ideal dad he had always hoped to be for his daughter.

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“I’d like to live like a normal person but I don’t even know what that is anymore,” Bourdain says at one point in the film.

Whether Bourdain could have ever truly settled down and embraced domesticity would be a topic of debate even among those closest to him, Neville says.

"He had many opportunities to do less," the filmmaker says. "He didn't have to travel 250 days a year. He could have done fewer shows. He had a book deal to go take a year off and live in Vietnam with his family and write about it. He could have done any of that and he never even slowed down. That, to me, feels like he was never really going to fully embrace it, because he couldn't even partly embrace it."

Anthony Bourdain and Asia Argento at the 2018 Women in the World Summit at Lincoln Center in New York City.
Anthony Bourdain and Asia Argento at the 2018 Women in the World Summit at Lincoln Center in New York City.

Although Busia appears prominently in interviews throughout the film, Neville chose not to speak to Asia Argento, Bourdain’s girlfriend of two years, because of the "complicated" nature of their relationship. Bourdain’s collaborators describe the couple's passionate courtship as having very high highs and low lows that they say made Bourdain sometimes manic and unpredictable at work.

They say he was deeply infatuated with her – at times excessively so – and was fiercely supportive of the Italian actress when she spoke out in 2017 about being sexually assaulted by Harvey Weinstein in the 1990s.

But days before Bourdain's suicide, magazines published paparazzi shots of Argento and another man. When asked how he was feeling about the tabloids, one friend says a visibly distraught Bourdain asked for “a little discretion” and said “I don’t want to deal with this,” seemingly alluding to Argento.

But ultimately, "as somebody in the film says, this was Tony's decision," Neville says. "Sixty-year-old men don't usually kill themselves because they broke up with somebody. Tony was somebody who had been running for a long time. His humor and his worldview could be pitch-black at times, and so that blackness was part of him."

Although Bourdain was in therapy just a couple of months before he died, Neville believes he still had a stigma around talking about mental health.

"Several people told me they would occasionally get a sort of 'help me' email from Tony, but then he'd often quickly retreat in a weak moment after some drinks, like, 'I'm fine, I'm fine,' " Neville says. "Tony thought of himself as a kind of Keith Richards character, but having made a film about Keith Richards (2015's 'Under the Influence'), the difference is that Keith is the most Zen person I've ever met. He doesn't worry about things.

"Tony was too anxious and tortured and depressed to ever be that type of person. He cared way too much about everything."

Contributing: Kim Willis

If you or someone you know may be struggling with suicidal thoughts, you can call the U.S. National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 800-273-TALK (8255) any time day or night, or chat online.

Crisis Text Line also provides free, 24/7, confidential support via text message to people in crisis when they dial 741741.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Anthony Bourdain 'Roadrunner' documentary explores 'tortured' life