Jeff Zucker, Don Lemon and More CNN Colleagues Remember "One of a Kind" Anthony Bourdain

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Don Lemon and Anthony Bourdain

"He was the real deal," Christiane Amanpour said. "I wish only that he finds peace now."

When CNN hired him in 2012, Anthony Bourdain didn't strike the industry as a prototypical "CNN employee." But his gift for luscious storytelling and his grasp of foreign cultures and, yes, politics, quickly made him one of the company's most valuable voices. When he died by suicide last Friday, CNN employees processed their grief in real time and tried to put their feelings about him into words. Below, some of the company's biggest names share stories about Bourdain with The Hollywood Reporter and speak out about what he meant to them — and to CNN.

Bourdain was a key part of network president Jeff Zucker's plan to broaden CNN's programming beyond hard news into travel, lifestyle and entertainment, though always with a news undertone. 

Zucker: "A lot of people — both inside CNN and out — didn't initially think Tony's show was going to work on CNN. They couldn't see how a show about food belonged on a 24-hour news network. But Parts Unknown was never really about food. For Tony, it was the food that brought people to the table to talk about the things that mattered: politics, culture, race or religion. In the end, it turned out Parts Unknown only belonged on CNN. He was one of our best storytellers, hands down. I often said that I learned more about some of the places he visited from an hour of Parts Unknown than I could ever have learned from the traditional news reports that had been done on that same place. He was one of a kind, and CNN will never be the same without him."

Amy Entelis, executive vp talent and content development for CNN Worldwide, oversaw Bourdain's show, a CNN Original Series.

Entelis: "A few of us went to Havana to surprise Tony while he was on a Parts Unknown shoot in 2016. We were waiting on the rooftop of a 100-year-old restaurant with a small band playing. When he emerged onto the roof and realized that his CNN colleagues were there waiting for him, he said, 'Uh oh, am I getting whacked?' Someone shouted from across the room, “Don’t be a jerk, we are not here to fire you, we are here to celebrate you!' That was Tony, always humble, quick-witted and straight to the point. We then went on to have an unforgettable dinner. And we will never stop celebrating him."

Bourdain's production company, Zero Point Zero, produced chief international anchor Christiane Amanpour's six-part CNN Original Series Christiane Amanpour: Sex & Love Around the World. The two were also longtime friends. 

Amanpour: "Tony was a giant talent with a unique voice. He was super cool, and yet he was also super kind and generous. He was a pal before coming to CNN and once at the network he was instrumental in helping me forge a different path, by believing in my idea to tell the story of the intimate lives of women around the world. He produced it with his ZPZ company. He was the real deal, always ahead of his time. I wish only that he finds peace now."

Comedian W. Kamau Bell is the host of the CNN Original Series United Shades of America.

Bell: "Anthony Bourdain is the GOAT: The Greatest of All Time. He is the GOAT the same way Michael Jordan is the GOAT. They both changed their game in fundamental ways so that everybody after (and weirdly before) is compared to them. And now that he’s gone, I can admit I was always trying to be the Scottie Pippen to his Michael Jordan. I just wanted to help our team win. It will be never be the same without him."

CNN anchor Don Lemon was a colleague and fan of Bourdain, who he said was "much more than a chef."

Lemon: "Like my other CNN colleagues, I had spent a fair amount of time with Tony on set promoting his upcoming episodes of Parts Unknown. My personal favorite story about him was co-hosting a live episode of his show from Las Vegas. He was nervous about anchoring a live show and leading live panel discussions. He told me he was grateful I was there to lean on. But he didn’t need my help. He ended up doing a great job. He was this giant in our industry and was incredibly down to earth and humble. I will miss him."