Anthony Bourdain has been married twice, first to Nancy Putkoski, and was dating girlfriend Asia Argento when he died. On June 8, 2018, CNN reported that Bourdain had taken his own life during the filming of Parts Unknown in France. He hanged himself and was found by his friend and fellow chef, Eric Ripert. He and Putkoski had known each other since long before he was famous, and their breakup put his life in a tailspin until he met his second wife, Ottavia Busia. Learn more about Putkoski and Bourdain’s relationship, why they broke up, and how he dealt with suicidal feelings even back in 2005 after their 20-year relationship ended.
If you, or anyone you know, is having suicidal thoughts please call The National Suicide Prevention Lifeline number on 1-800-273-8255 or go to their website here.
1. Nancy Putkoski Was the ‘Bad Girl’ in High School & Anthony Bourdain Was So Smitten that He Graduated Early to Follow Her to College
Bourdain and Nancy Putkoski were together from the beginning, before Bourdain was famous. They were high school sweethearts in New Jersey, and later married in 1986. Bourdain told Daily Life that Putkoski was older than him and the “bad girl” in high school. He hung out with the typical crowd, he said, but she was part of the “druggy crowd” and he was “smitten.” In fact, he said, he graduated from high school a year early so he could follow her to Vassar College in New York. At that time, Vassar had just started admitting men, he said, so he was one of the only males at the college when he enrolled. After two years, he dropped out and enrolled in the Culinary Institute of America in New York.
For a time, Bourdain and Putkoski were incredibly close. He even once referred to her as the love of his life. “She was my partner in crime, my wife, and before that my girlfriend,” he told Daily Life.
The New Yorker elaborated on their married life together. Bourdain compared their marriage to a Gus Van Sant film called Drugstore Cowboy. He said they had a “kind of love and codependency and sense of adventure – we were criminals together. A lot of our life was built around that, and happily so.” Much of their life, he said, did involve risks and drugs, but they also lived a fairly quiet life, where they got takeout at night, watched The Simpsons together, and saved up for a vacation in the Caribbean every few years.
Putkoski told The New Yorker that Bourdain was a “pretty dramatic” person.
“It does look pretty bleak in the rearview mirror,” she said. “But, when you’re living it, it’s just your life. You struggle through.”
2. They Divorced After 20 Years Because of His Extensive Travels & He Became Suicidal After the Breakup
Putkoski and Bourdain had been very close. Even though he traveled, he would often write her long emails. Once, after passing out in the streets after taking medicine for an illness and alcohol on an empty stomach, he woke up shaken emotionally. He went back to his villa and wrote a long email to Nancy Putkoski to help clear his head, The New Yorker wrote. When asked about what he wrote, he said:
“The sort of thing you write if you, you know, thought you were going to die. ‘I’m ***ing sorry. I’m sure I’ve acted like I wasn’t,'” he said. “We’ve had very little contact—you know, civil, but very, very little. ‘I’m sorry. I know that doesn’t help. It won’t fix it, there’s no making amends. But it’s not like I don’t remember. It’s not like I don’t know what I’ve done.'”
But the traveling proved too much for their relationship.
Putkoski and Bourdain had been together a long time — 20 years — before they divorced in 2005 because of his extensive traveling for his career. Bourdain’s marriage to Putkoski was the longest of all his relationships. He was married to his second wife, Ottavia Busia, from 2007 to 2016. Busia was 22 years younger than Bourdain and they said they split because of how much he had to travel for his career — this was the same reason given for why he and Putkoski broke up too.
Bourdain told Daily Life that he and Putkoski had many good times and many bad times, like other couples. “I spent almost two years traveling and filming A Cook’s Tour and, as a result, my marriage fell apart.”
He did try to save the marriage, The New Yorker reported. He remodeled their apartment, but his desire to travel the world and her desire to travel just once a year didn’t mesh.
But after their breakup, he coped by behaving irresponsibly in a suicidal way, he said.
“To cope, I went to the Caribbean where I behaved in a completely irresponsible and suicidal way,” Bourdain said. “I didn’t value my own life and acted accordingly. I had put myself in a very dark place and behaved recklessly in the not-too-subconscious hope that something terrible would happen. I was doing everything possible – smoking pot, drink-driving – to invite that.”
Divorce, he said, was the worst thing in the world, even though their divorce wasn’t contentious or long and drawn out. “It’s just a terrible thing when a relationship that great ends,” he said. He quickly learned that sleeping with fans didn’t make him feel any better. “I am not interested in weak, adoring personalities,” he said.
3. He Found ‘Color’ When He Visited Vietnam & Everything in His Life, Including His Marriage to Putkoski, Felt ‘Flat’ When He Returned to America
Bourdain didn’t speak too much about the reasons for his divorce right after it happened. But he did speak to The Guardian in 2006, and connected the divorce not so much to his success, but to visiting Vietnam and how it changed his view about everything in his life.
He had read about Vietnam, he said, and it was just like the books and the movies but better.
“The guileless generosity of strangers, waking up smelling those smells, seeing those sights,” he said. “And having, once, one perfect meal, a confluence of everything good, a source of perfect happiness; I was almost ready to believe in God.”
But all that had a downside, he added, and it changed how he viewed his own life.
“I knew that my whole previous life was doomed,” he said. “It was no longer going to be normal. I had seen that … color … and I knew that that had changed me, altered the way I would look at things. And the first time I went back to America … everything was flat. Everything.”
He and Putkoski broke up shortly after his return.
“She was the love of my life. But everything changed.”
4. Bourdain and Putkoski Never Had Children, & He Once Said He Didn’t Want Kids Because He Thought He Wouldn’t Be a Good Parent
Despite being married for 20 years, the two never had children. In fact, Bourdain only had one child, Ariane, with his second wife Ottavia Busia.
Interestingly, in 2006 Bourdain just wasn’t interested in having kids. He told The Guardian that he didn’t regret not having children up to that point in time. (He and Busia would have a child about a year after that interview.) He said he would have been a terrible parent.
“I’m a very good uncle,” he added. “The evil uncle who lets them do everything. But a parent? Up until very recently I could hardly take care of myself.”
But after he had his child, that viewpoint about having children changed. He told Daily Life “It’s cliche to say that being a father is the greatest thing ever, but there’s only one thing better and that’s being a father of a little girl.”
During his 2006 interview with The Guardian, which was about a year after his divorce, he said that one of his main regrets in life was disappointing people. “What I do regret is letting people down,” he said. “Long before I was even on TV, I was always somehow seeing myself as if I was in a movie: selfish, narcissistic. And in being that selfish I must have disappointed people, and all my regrets are about disappointing people — as a friend, as a lover, being a letdown…”
5. Bourdain Said that Putkoski Hated Being Near Cameras & Didn’t Like the Idea of a TV Show
Putkoski wasn’t as interested in being in the Hollywood spotlight as Bourdain. In his book A Cook’s Tour he talked about walking through tapas bars in Portugal while filming for a show. He said the danger factor was compounded because Putkoski was with him for that show, and she had her own “limitless potential for causing mayhem.” He kept a close eye on her, he said, because he was worried about her.
“I was keeping a sharp, worried eye on Nancy, who hated the idea of making a television show, hated being near a camera, and had already taken a serious dislike to the producer for keeping me busy most of the day shooting ‘B-roll,’ meaning scenery, shots of me walking around and pretending I was thinking deep thoughts, while she stewed, neglected, in a hotel room,” he wrote. He added that she was also angry at the producer for elbowing her out of wide shots.
She was tough, he said. “Nancy could take him (the producer) with one arm behind her back.”
In fact, Bourdain once said that Putkoski “identified television early on as an existential threat to the marriage,” The New Yorker reported. Bourdain desperately wanted the world that was opening up to him, but Putkoski felt like it was a cancer to their lives and didn’t really want to be on camera.
“She told me recently that her ideal degree of fame would be that of a Supreme Court Justice,” he said. “Almost nobody knows what you look like, but you always get the reservation you want.”