This was not the posthumous revelation about Anthony Bourdain that anyone was expecting.
Known to have been dating Asia Argento since late 2016, a picture of an unconventional relationship with the Italian actress and filmmaker started to take shape after his suicide in June.
“Anthony and Asia had a free relationship, they loved without borders of traditional relationships, and they established the parameters of their relationship early on,” wrote the couple’s friend Rose McGowan, who had gotten to know both of them as fellow champions of the #MeToo movement. McGowan and Argento were among the first of the famous women to publicly accuse Harvey Weinstein of sexual assault and harassment last fall, and Bourdain spoke up as a fierce advocate for his girlfriend and the entire cause.
Now, almost a year after the New York Times ;and The New Yorker paved the way for an avalanche of accusations against Weinstein and countless other men in varied positions of power—including celebrity chef Mario Batali, whom Bourdain had previously expressed endless admiration for—McGowan is understandably disappointed in Argento. And the Italian actress and filmmaker’s description of Bourdain as her “rock” and “protector” has taken on new meaning.
Audiences can watch Anthony Bourdain and Asia Argento falling for each other on the “Rome” episode of the award-winning CNN series Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown, on which Argento appeared as a guide to the Italian capital’s off-the-beaten-path culinary delights and culture, taking him to eat pasta ringside at a boxing club and to her sister’s house for a home-cooked meal.
“As so many have found throughout history, it’s easy to fall in love with Rome. She is seductively beautiful,” Bourdain intones as he and a similarly leather-jacketed Argento are seen strolling a narrow street together, two misfits on a mission. “She has endured and survived many things.”
Whether his passionate narration was inspired by the new woman in his life is anyone’s guess—but it certainly makes for a powerful metaphor if so.
Writing about the episode on CNN.com, Bourdain stated that it wouldn’t have been possible without the “truly magnificent” Argento as he detailed the myriad experiences she introduced him to.
“If you ask Asia a question, you are going to get an answer—and she doesn’t care if it reflects badly on you—or on herself,” Bourdain noted. “She’s going to give it to you straight. Actors and film people are generally a frightened bunch. They fear saying or doing the wrong thing—of somehow finding themselves no longer able to work in film.”
So, basically, everything he ever wrote or said, especially in the last couple years of his life, was eerily prescient and profound.
When he met Argento, who’s mother to daughter Anna Lou and son Nicola from previous relationships, Bourdain was separated from his second wife, Ottavia Busia, the mother of his daughter Ariane. He and Busia never ended up officially divorcing, but he told People in September 2016 that he and Busia had been leading “very separate” lives for years.
“There’s no drama here. We get along really, really well and it’s not a big lifestyle change happening here,” the author and Emmy winner said.
After the initial splash they made as a couple, Bourdain and Argento went on to have a fairly private relationship, sharing the occasional photo on Instagram in which they inevitably looked ravenously in love and also often like two world-weary travelers who’d found each other at last. They bonded over their nomadic tendencies, and till the end of his life Bourdain never stopped crisscrossing the globe for Parts Unknown.
Talking to Popula in February, Bourdain once again considered and automatically dismissed the idea of himself ever settling down, at least geographically.
“It’s helped me a lot that Asia is the same way,” he said, also confiding that the two of them had resumed their respective smoking habits together. “That there’s no shame in this, you know…She’ll point out the ridiculousness of kicking back on the beach, because she’ll say right up front…’This doesn’t appeal to me at all! This is a living death.’ I can’t do it. I can do it for a few days at a time.”
He also said, “I’m a renter by nature. I like the freedom to change my mind about where I want to be in six months, or a year.”
On its own, Bourdain’s relationship with Argento didn’t attract that many headlines until her allegations against Weinstein were first detailed by Ronan Farrowin The New Yorker last fall. She accused the disgraced production mogul (who’s since been charged with and pleaded not guilty to sex crimes in an unrelated case) of forcing oral sex on her and other misconduct starting when she was 21 years old.
“I know he has crushed a lot of people before,” Argento told Farrow. “That’s why this story—in my case, it’s twenty years old, some of them are older—has never come out.” She later had consensual encounters with Weinstein, she said, though she really felt “obliged” to comply, for fear he’d harm her career. (Weinstein has denied all allegations of non-consensual sex.)
“Proud as hell,” Bourdain captioned a photo of Argento flipping the bird on the red carpet, which he posted on Oct. 10, the day the article was published.
In a harbinger of things to come, he had tweeted Oct. 6, reacting to the initial New York Times story that McGowan was mentioned in, “@rosemcgowan has been way out in front of this thing . Took a lot of courage.”
On Late Night With Seth Meyers later that month, Bourdain, who rocketed to fame on the momentum of his funny, eye-opening and thoroughly entertaining 2000 memoir Kitchen Confidential combined with his own raw charm, acknowledged that restaurant culture was historically problematic when it came to how women were treated.
“I think it’s going to have to change,” he said. “…You’re going to have to account for yourself. ‘What did I do when at-that-important moment,’ you know? ‘What did I say? What kind of person was I?’ You’re going to have to take responsibility for what you see, not just what you take part in.”
When numerous accusations of misconduct against Mario Batali were brought to light in December by Eater New York, prompting ABC to immediately dismiss the celebrated chef and restaurateur from The Chew, Bourdain took to Medium to expand on his thoughts on the subject.
“In these current circumstances, one must pick a side,” he wrote. “I stand unhesitatingly and unwaveringly with the women. Not out of virtue, or integrity, or high moral outrage — as much as I’d like to say so — but because late in life, I met one extraordinary woman with a particularly awful story to tell, who introduced me to other extraordinary women with equally awful stories. I am grateful to them for their courage, and inspired by them. That doesn’t make me any more enlightened than any other man who has begun listening and paying attention. It does makes me, I hope, slightly less stupid.”
Bourdain concluded, “To the extent which my work in Kitchen Confidential celebrated or prolonged a culture that allowed the kind of grotesque behaviors we’re hearing about all too frequently is something I think about daily, with real remorse.”
On May 19, Argento gave a much talked about speech at the Cannes Film Festival, calling the glittering annual event Weinstein’s past “hunting ground,” noting that it was during Cannes in 1997 that Weinstein allegedly assaulted her.
“And even tonight, sitting among you,” she said during the festival’s closing ceremony, “there are those who still have to be held accountable for their conduct against women, for behavior that does not belong in this industry, does not belong in any industry or work place. You know who you are, but most importantly—we know who you are and we’re not going to allow you to get away with it any longer.”
“Brava @asiaargento An absolutely fearless off-script nuclear bomb of a speech to a stunned crowd at #Cannes,” Bourdain tweeted. He added, “How to lob a grenade into a huge industry event and make them thank you for it…” He also retweeted several other comments and stories about the speech.
Quite unlike the overwhelmingly appalled response to the reports about Weinstein and other men in the United States, the response to Argento coming forward in her native Italy was much more accusatory—toward her. “I don’t see what I can do there,” she said in an October TV interview from Germany, having left her home country. “I’ll come back when things improve to fight alongside all the other women.”
When Argento tweeted that Spike Lee was the only person who came up to her with “kind words” afterward, Bourdain too wrote, “Thank you Spike Lee for your kindness and thoughtfulness . You stood up when others didn’t . @asiaargento.” The next day he added, “Again. I want to thank Spike Lee. For making the extra-ordinary effort of walking and squeezing his way across a crowded room at Cannes to do the right thing. Above and beyond. It was remembered . It was much appreciated.”
A few days later Weinstein turned himself in after being charged with sexual assault. Bourdain tweeted, “When you went on record, @AsiaArgento you were sure this day would never come, that you would be crushed, that you were alone. And yet you did it anyway. #perpwalk.”
An outpouring of grief over Bourdain’s shocking death and appreciations for his copious contributions to the cultural discourse proceeded to consume longtime and brand-new fans for the next two months. CNN announced it would put together more Parts Unknown episodes from the footage of Bourdain’s final trips, and a network documentary is in the works. And that conversation will continue.
But as if there weren’t enough questions left unanswered already, there are now even more.
It was just revealed this week that this past November, with Argento having become one of the faces of the #MeToo movement, a young man notified her of his intent to sue her over an alleged sexual assault that took place in 2013 and asked for $3.5 million in damages.
The New York Times reported Sunday that Jimmy Bennett, a former child actor who at 7 years old played Argento’s son in her 2004 movie The Heart Is Deceitful Above All Things, had alleged that Argento initiated sex with him in a California hotel room when he was only 17 (the age of consent in California is 18) and she was 37. The alleged assault took place in 2013. Documents sent to the Times indicated that Argento had agreed in March to pay Bennett $380,000, starting with a lump sum of $200,000 in April, followed by monthly installments of $10,000.
At first the Times, which explained that the encrypted documents were sent to the paper anonymously, couldn’t get a direct comment from either party, though Bennett’s lawyer emailed the newspaper, “In the coming days, Jimmy will continue doing what he has been doing over the past months and years, focusing on his music.”
And though one accusation doesn’t negate another, needless to say a groan of disappointment sounded collectively among the leaders and supporters of the #MeToo movement. (Weinstein’s lawyer Ben Brafman immediately stated that the story revealed a “stunning level of hypocrisy by Asia Argento.”)
“I got to know Asia Argento ten months ago,” McGowan tweeted on Monday. “Our commonality is the shared pain of being assaulted by Harvey Weinstein. My heart is broken. I will continue my work on behalf of victims everywhere.” When her words were inevitably twisted to suit certain opinions about the #MeToo movement, she fired back, “Oh for f–k’s sake I’m not defending.”
“I’ve said repeatedly that the #metooMVMT is for all of us, including these brave young men who are now coming forward,” #MeToo founder Tarana Burke tweeted Monday. “It will continue to be jarring when we hear the names of some of our faves connected to sexual violence unless we shift from talking about individuals…and begin to talk about power. Sexual violence is about power and privilege. That doesn’t change if the perpetrator is your favorite actress, activist or professor of any gender.”
More men coming forward would be key to the strength of the movement as well, Burke wrote.
Alyssa Milano, who helped make the #MeToo hashtag go viral last fall, wrote in an essay for The Wrap, “The fact is, these two truths can exist at once: A victim of assault can also be an offender. It is sad and infuriating to say the least, but one victim’s alleged horrid behavior does not nullify an entire movement.” Ashley Judd, who shared her experience with the NY Times for its initial article on Weinstein, tweeted out Milano’s article, adding, “Indeed, accountability is at the very heart of the #MeToo movement. We hold any and every abuser accountable, regardless of their gender, race, socioeconomic status, public visibility or popularity. Sexual violence is wrong, full stop.” Mira Sorvino, who talked to Farrow for the same New Yorker story as Argento, tweeted that she was “heartsick” over the allegations and, if true, there was “no lens that makes it better.”
Argento broke her silence on Tuesday morning, sending a statement to New York magazine and Huffington Post contributor Yashar Ali, who shared it in full on Twitter, in which she said she strongly denied and opposed the “absolutely false” contents of the Times piece.
“I have never had any sexual relationship with Bennett,” she stated. Once she was in the news with regard to Weinstein, Argento alleged, Bennett, who was having financial difficulties and had accused his parents of withholding his own earnings from him, “unexpectedly made an exorbitant request of money from me. Bennett knew my boyfriend, Anthony Bourdain, was a man of great perceived wealth and had his own reputation as a beloved figure to protect.”
She continued, “Antony [sic] insisted the matter be handled privately and this was also what Bennett wanted. Anthony was afraid of the possible negative publicity that such person, whom he considered dangerous, could have brought upon us. We decided to deal compassionately with Bennett’s demand for help and give it to him.”
And it was Bourdain who paid Bennett, Argento claimed.
“Anthony personally undertook to help Bennett economically, upon the condition that we would no longer suffer any further intrusions in our life,” she further stated, calling the Times report “the umpteenth development of a sequence of events that brings me great sadness and that constitutes a long-standing persecution.”
According to the Times report, however, among the documents they received was a selfie of Bennett and Argento lying in bed together.
And on Wednesday, TMZ published what appears to be that selfie, as well as screengrabs of portions of text exchanges purportedly showing Argento writing to a friend, “I had sex with him it felt weird. I didn’t know he was a minor until the shakedown letter.” (Yashar Ali noted Wednesday that TMZ’s report directly contradicted the first part of Argento’s statement to him.)
In one screengrab, Argento sent a photo of a note she said was from Bennett, in which he wrote, “I love you with all my heart. So glad we met again and I’m so glad you’re in my life.” Argento wrote in a text, “He wrote me this afterwards and kept sending me unsolicited nudes all these years up until 2 weeks before the attorneys [sic] letter.”
Bennett—whose acting credits include the 2005 remake of The Amityville Horror, Gilmore Girls, Evan Almighty, Bones and the Amazon series Bosch—broke his silence Wednesday.
“Many brave women and men have spoken out about their own experiences during the #metoo movement, and I appreciate the bravery that it took for each and every one of them to take such a stand,” began a statement, obtained by E! News, from the now 22-year-old musician.
“I did not initially speak out about my story because I chose to handle it in private with the person who wronged me. My trauma resurfaced as she came out as a victim herself. I have not made a public statement in the past days and hours because I was ashamed and afraid to be part of the public narrative. I was underage when the event took place and I tried to seek justice in a way that made sense to me at the time because I was not ready to deal with the ramifications of my story becoming public.
“At the time I believed there was still a stigma to being in the situation as a male in our society. I didn’t think that people would understand the event that took place from the eyes of a teenage boy. I have had to overcome many adversities in my life, and this is another that I will deal with, in time. I would like to move past this event in my life, and today I choose to move forward, no longer in silence.”
There’s been no further word yet from Argento’s camp.
She had joined Italy’s X Factor this summer as a judge and on Tuesday Sky Italia and producer FreemantleMedia Italia stated that if the allegations printed by the Times “were to be confirmed, the issue would be absolutely inconsistent with Sky’s ethical principles and values and therefore—in full agreement with FremantleMedia—we would have no choice but to take note of it and put an end to the collaboration with Asia Argento.”
On Wednesday the international music festival Le Guess Who? announced that Argento had stepped down as curator of this year’s event, scheduled for November in the Dutch city of Utrecht, “due to the volatile nature of the accusations” against her.
The Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department confirmed to E! News this week that they had not located any police report alleging criminal activity in their jurisdiction in relation to the incident detailed in the media, but that the LASD’s Special Victims Bureau was attempting to reach out to Bennett and his representatives “to appropriately document any potential criminal allegations.”
Meanwhile, the voice that’s glaringly missing right now is Bourdain’s.
“In her statement she doesn’t actually take responsibility for what happened or the chain of events,” Liz Plank, an executive producer at Vox Media and host of the online series and podcast Divided States of Women, told E! News (before TMZ published the photo and screengrabs). “She actually either blames the victim or blames Anthony Bourdain, for not only being responsible for paying off Jimmy Bennett, but also for it even being his idea in the first place. Anthony Bourdain is unfortunately no longer with us and cannot defend himself.”
The Times reported Sunday that Bourdain’s lawyer Richard Hofstetter had also been representing Argento last November, and was the recipient of the intent-to-sue notice from Bennett’s attorney. Argento then turned to attorney Carrie Goldberg to handle matters for her, according to the story. (Neither Goldberg, Hofstetter nor Bourdain’s agent commented for the piece.)
Bourdain sang Argento’s praises in a guest column for The Hollywood Reporter, published June 2, in honor of the “Hong Kong” episode of Parts Unknown, which his girlfriend directed.
“I needed a director, someone with whom the notoriously unpredictable [Christopher] Doyle would feel a rapport,” Bourdain wrote, explaining how much he wanted to work with Doyle, filmmaker Wong Kar Wai‘s go-to director of photography.
“Fortunately, I’d met Asia Argento two years previously, on our Rome show,” he continued. “I’d initially reached out to her because of my admiration for her last directorial effort, Incompresa—and because of her fascinating Twitter feed, filled with iconoclastic references to films, music, books and artists I’d thought only I’d ever heard of. That turned out to be one of the better decisions of my life. I thought, ‘If Chris Doyle is going to get along with anybody, it’s an outlier, don’t-give-a-s–t-about-convention workaholic, like Asia.'”
For a behind-the-scenes feature, Argento recalled to Parts Unknown producer Helen Cho in May that the original director fell ill and she got a last-minute call from Bourdain, so two days later she flew to Hong Kong. Though she was “completely unprepared,” she said, she was familiar with how his crew worked and she quickly adapted.
Asked if she would want to collaborate again, with Bourdain and Doyle, Argento said, “I would love to. Christopher is a precious cinematic partner in crime. He and Anthony got along famously. We made a great trio—the good, the bad, and the ugly. Figure out who is which.”
“It was the most intensely satisfying experience of my professional life and a show that I am giddily, ecstatically proud of,” Bourdain wrote in THR, adding that he planned to get Doyle’s name in the original Mandarin, Du Kefeng, tattooed somewhere on his body. “As you might have guessed,” he concluded, “I already have an Asia Argento tattoo.”
Less than a week later, Bourdain killed himself in his hotel room in the Alsace region of France, where he was shooting yet another episode of Parts Unknown.
“Anthony gave all of himself in everything that he did,” Argento wrote in an Instagram post later that day. “His brilliant, fearless spirit touched and inspired so many, and his generosity knew no bounds. He was my love, my rock, my protector. I am beyond devastated. My thoughts are with his family. I would ask that you respect their privacy and mine.”
On June 17, she posted an image featuring the message, “Everyone you meet is fighting a battle you know nothing about. Be kind. Always.” Her caption: “For nothing is concealed that won’t be revealed, and nothing hidden that won’t be made known and brought to light #TruthWillPrevail.”