Although Bourdain became an international celebrity as a candid, exuberant lover of food and travel, he didn't break through until he was in his mid-40s. As a result, Bourdain experienced decades of both struggle and success, and going from one to the other made him feel like he was getting away with something.
"I should've died in my 20s. I became successful in my 40s. I became a dad in my 50s," Bourdain told Todd Aaron Jensen in a 2016 interview for Biography.com. "I feel like I've stolen a car — a really nice car — and I keep looking in the rear-view mirror for flashing lights. But there's been nothing yet."
As a younger man, Bourdain dropped out of college to go to the Culinary Institute of America in New York, where he took on several side hustles to make money. After graduating, he often put in 12-hour shifts, six days a week, and still brought home no more than $120 after taxes, reports WealthSimple.
"I didn't put anything aside, ever. Money came in, money went out. I was always a paycheck behind, at least. I usually owed my chef my paycheck: again, cocaine," Bourdain told WealthSimple. "Until I was 44, I never even had a savings account."
That year, everything changed. He wrote an article for the New Yorker titled, "Don't Eat Before Reading This," which he segued into the sale of the massively popular book, "Kitchen Confidential."
"Oh, man, at the age of 44, I was standing in kitchens, not knowing what it was like to go to sleep without being in mortal terror. I was in horrible, endless, irrevocable debt," Bourdain told Jensen. "I had no health insurance. I didn't pay my taxes. I couldn't pay my rent."
He added: "It was a nightmare, but it's all been different for about 15 years. If it looks like my life is comfortable, well, that's a very new thing for me."