When celebrity chef and culinary icon, Anthony Bourdain, died in 2018 by suicide, he left behind a widow, Ottavia Busia-Bourdain, who was the mother of his only child, daughter Ariane Bourdain. However, Bourdain’s love life was quite a bit more complicated than these facts would tend to suggest. Although Bourdain and Busia-Bourdain were still legally married at the time of Bourdain’s death, they had been estranged – and publicly so – for a number of years, leaving Bourdain free to pursue other relationships, including a two-year relationship with the Italian actress, Asia Argento, with whom Bourdain was still involved at the time of his death. Bourdain’s relationships with Busia-Bourdain and Argento are the two on which the public has focused most of its attention, but they were not Bourdain’s only significant romantic relationships.
Specifically, Bourdain had been married to a woman by the name of Nancy Putkoski for nearly two decades – from the mid 19080s until 2005, when the two became legally divorced. The relationship lasted far longer than two decades – in some form or another, however, having begun in the early 1970s, while Bourdain was still in high school. Nevertheless, little is known, and little has been said publicly about the woman who was by Bourdain’s side as he came of age and catapulted to fame. So, who is this mysterious ex-wife of Anthony Bourdain? And why does she seem so mysterious? Here is the untold truth of Anthony Bourdain’s first wife, Nancy Putkoski.
Who actually IS Nancy Putkoski?
Since there is so little public information available about Anthony Bourdain’s first wife, Nancy Putkoski, it would be totally understandable if the thought had occurred to you, to paraphrase the author, Mark Twain, that perhaps “rumors of Bourdain’s first marriage have been greatly exaggerated.” However, that is simply not the case. In Anthony Bourdain’s own words, “Nancy and I spent over two decades together, either as a couple or married. She was my partner in crime, my wife, and before that my girlfriend,” via Daily Life, with whom Bourdain spoke in 2012.
As Bourdain told Daily Life, “At high school, I fell in with your typical bad crowd but I also fell in love with Nancy Putkoski.” He recalled that Nancy was older than him and graduated from high school a year before he would have graduated, had he not finished early. Bourdain, who grew up in Leonia, New Jersey, attended Dwight Englewood, a private high school located in northern New Jersey (via YouTube). Based on Bourdain’s statements to Daily Life, it seems reasonable to think that Putkoski also attended Dwight Englewood.
Anthony Bourdain described Nancy Putkoski as a ‘bad girl’ in high school
If Nancy Putkoski attended a private high school in New Jersey before moving on to Vassar College, an elite institution of higher learning located in upstate New York, then perhaps, like Bourdain, Putkoski was raised in a family of at least comfortable financial means. However, just as Bourdain referred to himself as an “angry and alienated teenager” who was “loved … but resented the normalcy of [his] household,” per Daily Life, it appears that Putkoski may have also rebelled against the suburban status quo.
Bourdain described Nancy Putkoski as “a bad girl” who was older than him and “part of a druggy crowd.” Not that he saw this as a bad thing. In fact, he was “smitten,” as he confessed, which is, at least part of the reason why he elected to graduate early from high school. His next step was to follow Putkoski to Vassar.
Nancy Putkoski and Anthony Bourdain might not have had a committed relationship in college
Based on Anthony Bourdain’s own remarks and reports that reference the relationship, it appears that he and Nancy Putkoski were high school sweethearts. But whether or not they had, in fact, become romantically involved while still in high school, Bourdain made it clear to Daily Life that he was “smitten” with the older Putkoski – so much so that he graduated from high school a year early in order to follow her to Vassar College, becoming one of a very few men to matriculate there at the time.
Founded in 1861 (via Vassar College), Vassar was an “elite university for women,” Bourdain stated. “They had just started admitting men and so when I arrived at 17, I found myself a rarity. I was an unprepared, immature young man in the company of very many female wolves, who pretty much taught me the way of the world.” From this, it would appear Bourdain was implying that Nancy Putkoski was not the only woman with whom he was romantically involved during his college years. In fact, despite having followed Putkoski to Vassar, Bourdain left after two years to attend culinary school at the Culinary Institute of America (via Heavy), a 15-minute drive from the university.
While “there was plenty of love,” as Bourdain noted, the two “went through a lot of times, many of them great, many of them bad. It’s that simple – or that complicated.”
Anthony Bourdain said Nancy Putkoski saw his growing fame as a threat to the marriage
After Anthony Bourdain’s best-selling “Kitchen Confidential: Adventures in the Culinary Underbelly” was published in 2000 he was offered a TV deal, he told The New Yorker in early 2017. Nancy Putkoski, to whom he was married at the time, “identified television early on as an existential threat to the marriage,” Bourdain explained. “I felt like the whole world was opening up to me. I’d seen things. I’d smelled things. I desperately wanted more. And she saw the whole thing as a cancer.”
She wasn’t exactly wrong, as it turned out, or perhaps it was a self-fulfilling prophecy? As Bourdain explained to Daily Life, “I spent almost two years traveling and filming ‘A Cook’s Tour,’ and, as a result, my marriage fell apart.” But apparently, salvaging his relationship with Putkoski was important enough to Bourdain to inspire him to work at trying to reconcile their differences. Ultimately, however, Bourdain’s ambition and curiosity drove a wedge between him and Putkoski. “I was ambitious, she was not,” he told The New Yorker. “I have a rampaging curiosity about things, and she was content, I think, to be with me.”
The incompatible combination of Putkoski’s complacency and Bourdain’s intrepid desires eventually brought the marriage to its breaking point. It officially broke in 2005. Twelve years later, he still pointed to that choice as his life’s “great betrayal.”
Nancy Putkoski preferred obscurity to the limelight
The choice to live her life outside of the public sphere was a choice that may have contributed to the demise of the marriage of Nancy Putkoski and the late chef and culinary icon, Anthony Bourdain (via The New Yorker). Nevertheless, it appears to be a choice from which Nancy Putkoski has never flinched, even in the wake of Bourdain’s tragic death. Perhaps most pointedly, Putkoski did not speak on the record to Morgan Neville, the documentary filmmaker whose “Roadrunner: A Film About Anthony Bourdain” opened recently to both rave reviews and curiosity as to why the film did not include any first-person commentary from either Putkoski or Argento, regarding Bourdain and their respective relationships with him (via Patriot Ledger).