On June 4, 2018, Anthony Bourdain posted a final photo to Instagram. The image shows a glistening slab of pork on a mound of sauerkraut, with a turned potato peeking out from underneath. At the time, it was innocuous and did not presage the tragedy that would come four days later. “Light lunch,” the caption reads.
Today, exactly three years after Bourdain’s death, that seemingly mundane Instagram post has transformed into something of a virtual tombstone, simultaneously comforting and stoking the grief of those who visit it — not unlike the graves of Jim Morrison in Paris or Jean-Michel Basquiat in Brooklyn. It still receives new comments daily, often dozens of them. They come from people hoping to reconnect with him; people struggling to comprehend his final days; people missing his wisdom; people hoping to pay tribute to a man who has no physical gravesite to visit.
Erick Guerrero is one of those people. A chef from Mexico City, Guerrero visited Bourdain’s final Instagram post on May 26 of this year and left behind the comment, “Miss you, legend.”
“I was watching an episode of Parts Unknown,” he says, adding that he was also reading Bourdain’s Les Halles Cookbook at the time. “It made me remember the way he had the facility to let you know a lot of things about life — social situations and common troubles that everyone has,” Guerrero adds. “Every time I visit his profile, there is always a part of me that hopes to see a video, a note, or just something new that Anthony Bourdain posted.” He says that checking in on Bourdain’s account offers “a combination of sadness and comfort … I just felt that I lost someone who was really close to me, even when I never met him personally.”
Isaac Castro, an avid traveler living in San Francisco, was no less affected by the initial news of Bourdain’s death, but has had to come to terms with it. “Being angry or sad isn’t going to bring him back — you have to move forward and celebrate his life,” he says. It was with that outlook that Castro returned to Bourdain’s last post — he’d been discussing travel on a phone call with his best friend, and after a reference to Bourdain, decided to revisit his Instagram page to pay homage — and left behind the simple comment “you are missed!!” in May of this year.
“I remembered him still having an Instagram and I clicked on it,” Castro says. “It had been a while and I forgot how amazing his pictures were and how we lost a great traveler.” That final post, Castro says, is bittersweet. “With all of his struggles, still made quality programming and literature for his fan base. He is at peace now and it is comforting to know.”
Instagram posts serving as makeshift memorials are not uncommon, but Bourdain’s has nevertheless taken on its own unique significance because of the closeness that his fans felt to him, with steady references to Bourdain as “brother,” “pal,” and “Uncle Tony.” The anniversary of Bourdain’s death means the comments will pick up, naturally, with some users now referencing the upcoming documentary on Bourdain’s life.
The page itself has been memorialized, which, according to Instagram, means that it won’t be deleted and cannot be changed. Even if people can’t leave flowers, they can keep leaving notes like the message that one user shared earlier this year for everyone to read: “Be well, buddy. See you on the other side. It’ll be fun.”