Tragic Details About Famous Celebrity Chefs

Celebrity chefs are everywhere now. While they merely started with television shows or cookbooks, nowadays many of the world's most famous chefs also sell products with their name on them, host other television shows tangentially related to food at best, and license their names to restaurants they actually spend very little time in. It used to be about the food, but today, being a famous chef also means being a personality and building a media empire.

But while the line between celebrity and chef continues to blur, it's worth keeping in mind that even people who are famous for cooking (or food-related topics) have all got the stories that brought them into the limelight.

Many of the most famous cooks in the world had to overcome their own personal tragedies to get where they are. Celebrities! They're just like us! Except much hotter, richer, and way better in the kitchen.

Alton Brown's father died mysteriously

Alton Brown exploded into stardom in the 2000s with his seminal cooking show, Good Eats. Part cooking show, part science show, and part variety show, Good Eats was entertaining, informative, and unlike any other cooking show around, sharing more in common with Bill Nye than Julia Child.

But while Brown's face can be found several times a day on Food Network, he also has a tragic backstory that only demonstrates how far he's come. When Brown was just a child, his father, Alton Brown, Sr., was found dead of an apparent suicide, having taped a plastic bag over his head, according to the New York Times. While police determined the death to be self-caused, Alton Jr. and his family have not been shy about their suspicions that Alton Sr. was actually murdered.

Alton Sr. owned a radio station and newspaper in Georgia towns near where Alton Jr. grew up, and the Brown family thinks that he might have ended up making some enemies with one or both, according to Delish. Brown has never given details publicly, but he apparently has reason to suspect that perhaps his father was secretly silenced.

If you or anyone you know is having suicidal thoughts, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline​ at​ 1-800-273-TALK (8255)​.

Andrew Zimmern spent some time as a homeless drug addict

Andrew Zimmern is less known for his own cooking skills than he is for sharing the world's most interesting and unusual foods to whole new audiences. On his shows Bizarre Foods and Bizarre Foods America, Zimmern travels the globe to find regional cuisine and niche foods that most people outside of a given geographic area might have never heard about.

But before the television and radio hosting gigs, Andrew Zimmern was a much different person. Putting off an air of scholarly classiness nowadays, he paradoxically used to be a homeless Manhattan drug addict, according to People. Squatting in an abandoned building, stealing to pay for drugs, Zimmern had essentially hit bottom. His parents divorced when he was young and his mother dealt with long-term health problems, both of which pushed him into his less-than-glamorous lifestyle. At one point, he even ended up stealing jewelry from his own godmother and hawking it to pay for a hotel room where he tried to drink himself to death.

Eventually, Zimmern moved to Minnesota, where he still lives, and went through rehab. He has been sober for over 25 years. It's a heck of a bounce back, but like any addict, he does still fight his addiction every day. Presumably, his anti-drug is travelling the world and finding obscure foods to eat.

Nigella Lawson turned to drugs to deal with abuse

One of Britain's most famous chefs, Nigella Lawson projects an image of a high-class socialite, which makes sense since she's literally the daughter of aristocrat Nigel Lawson. Her cookbooks have been bestsellers and her television shows have been huge hits. But even Lawson has had her share of darkness.

In 2013, Lawson split from her husband Charles Saatchi after paparazzi photographed him grabbing Lawson by the neck. Police investigated and numerous stories about the couple's tumultuous relationship emerged. The biggest bombshell came months later, though, when two of the pair's assistants were put on trial for fraud after using Saatchi's credit cards without permission, according to The Guardian. The assistants claimed that Lawson allowed them to use the cards after they found out she had a daily habit of using cocaine. Lawson admitted to the drug use, but denied being addicted. She claims to be drug free since the divorce and says she only started taking cocaine due to the issues in her marriage.

Sadly, this wasn't Lawson's first encounter with domestic abuse. Growing up, her mother, Vanessa Salmon, was verbally, emotionally, and even physically abusive to her and her siblings, according to The Irish Independent. Lawson has even said that on one occasion, her mother had to stop beating her brother only because she had hurt her hand. It's a disturbing story, and frankly, it makes sense that someone might find any comfort they can when facing another similar situation.

Mary Berry's son died tragically

Mary Berry, one of the original judges, along with Paul Hollywood, on the wildly popular Great British Bake-Off is not just a domestic wizard, she's also a talented writer. And while you might miss her from everyone's favorite weekend binge-watch, she's still out there, working hard in the name of British baked goods (and all other sorts of food as well).

But long before she was a television star, Berry had to deal with a horrible family tragedy in 1989, according to RTE. Berry's son, William, had come in from college for a family visit. Berry recalls being thrilled, and even making a roast lamb for everyone (which was presumably delicious, all things considered).

But the following day, the unthinkable happened. William took his parents' car for a drive that morning, but never came home. Hours later, a police officer appeared at the family's door, informing them that William had been involved in a car accident and died. He was only 19-years-old. In spite of this heartbreaking story, however, Berry and her family persevered. Of the matter, she says, "We had William for 19 years and he was just such fun and we have great, great memories." It sounds like she and her family have found some peace with what happened in the intervening decades.

Giada De Laurentiis lost her brother to skin cancer

Food Network staple (pun sort of intended) Giada De Laurentiis has consistently been one of the channel's biggest and longest-running stars. She started with a single show and before long ended up hosting and appearing on a number of other shows on Food Network and more, even taking home multiple Daytime Emmy awards.

But while Giada is all smiles on camera, she had to deal with a horrible family tragedy not long after she made her television debut. Her younger brother, Dino De Laurentiis (named after the legendary Hollywood producer of the same name who was their grandfather), was diagnosed with melanoma back in the early 2000s. Sadly, in 2003, at only age 31, Dino died of skin cancer, which was devastating for Giada and her family. She and Dino actually lived next door to each other, according to Entertainment Tonight, and were extremely close.

Since then, Giada has been a big supporter of The Melanoma Research Alliance and has recorded PSAs for Stand Up to Cancer. She is a frequent proponent of sunscreen and self-checks for skin cancer, things that she believes would have saved her brother's life. She has said that, despite losing her brother, the trauma from that event also brought her closer to her sister than ever before, so at least she's channeled her grief into very positive things.

Cat Cora experienced sexual abuse from a family friend

Chef Cat Cora might not be as big as some of the other names on this list, but she's certainly comfortable with television. One of the original Iron Chefs on the American iteration of the show, she has guest judged numerous Food Network shows and even appeared as a contestant on a few. She's also an inductee to the Culinary Hall of Fame, the first woman to have received the honor, so she is a serious chef to boot.

But in her 2015 autobiography, Cooking as Fast as I Can, Cora told the story of her family's visits to Texarkana in the summers of her youth. The family had some friends there, including their friends' 15-year-old son that Cora refers to by the pseudonym "AH." According to Delish, AH began sexually abusing Cora at age 6 and continued to do so for about five years.

The abuse actually ended when Cora's father caught AH in the act. While the abuse stopped, Cora feared her parents were disgusted by her, something that traumatized her for years. While the emotional scars may never fully heal, Cora was able to begin her journey to culinary greatness. She also says overcoming the shame and guilt stemming from the events made her fearless, something that has served her well as she's moved through life.

Gordon Ramsay grew up in an abusive home

Gordon Ramsay is the internet's favorite chef, judging from how many expletive-filled memes of him there are floating around. While Ramsay is famous for his potty mouth and creative insults, much like Dr. House, he gets to be that way because he knows what he's doing and has proved it. And he's not always brash– just watch any of his shows where he's working with kids and you can see a far gentler side of the man who strikes fear into mediocre chefs.

This may not surprise you, but Ramsay didn't come by his cutting wit accidentally. Indeed, young Gordon came from a home where abuse was de rigueur, namely from his own father. In a CNN editorial, Ramsay shared the story of his family and the abuse they experienced. His father frequently had trouble holding a job and even spent some time in jail, meaning he and his siblings got moved around a whole lot. It's tough to make it through that without at least developing some quick thinking and wit.

Ramsay has his own children now and refuses to treat them the way he was treated. Sadly, even a much healthier home can have its setbacks. In 2016, Ramsay's wife Tana lost a child late in her pregnancy, at five months, according to Tommy's. The Ramsays were open about their loss, even talking about it on social media, something many celebrities are understandably reluctant to do.

There were signs of Anthony Bourdain's struggles with depression

In 2018, globetrotting chef Anthony Bourdain was found dead by suicide in his hotel bathroom in France, where he was filming Parts Unknown, according to France24. The death of the 61-year-old celebrity chef hit the world like a ton of bricks. It turned out that, while appearing publicly as a jovial guy who liked cuisine from around the world, Bourdain also had a personal struggle with depression. Sadly, this wasn't completely a secret, and Bourdain included some hints about that struggle in his work.

In a 2016 episode of Parts Unknown where Bourdain visited Argentina, the host spent a lot of time talking about mental health, according to Eater, since Argentina has the most mental health specialists per capita of any country in the world. In the episode, Bourdain filmed a tongue-in-cheek segment where he sees a therapist, but little did audiences know at the time, Bourdain made a comment that would later be heartbreaking in the wake of his suicide. "There's the evil cheeseburger, the evil hamburger that sets me off; suddenly, I'm depressed for days. It's like that with the good stuff, too."

Even more chilling is a Reddit thread where fans found multiple episodes of No Reservations where Bourdain darkly joked about hanging himself in his hotel shower, as well as in an interview with Vogue.

If you or anyone you know is having suicidal thoughts, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline​ at​ 1-800-273-TALK (8255)​.

Prue Leith's brother died in horrible pain

While Prue Leith is best known for replacing Mary Berry on The Great British Bake-Off (GBBO), she also has a ton of experience in the television chef world. In fact, just before moving onto GBBO, she held a similar role as a judge on The Great British Menu, as well as appearing on several other cooking shows.

While Leith shares many similarities with her GBBO predecessor, one of the things they have in common is a tragic death in their lives. Berry had to cope with the death of her young son, while Leith watched her brother, David, suffer a painful death from bone cancer, according to The Telegraph. Disturbingly, due to English law, David's doctors weren't allowed to administer enough morphine for him to withstand the agony he was in. Ostensibly, the doctors said it was to keep him from becoming addicted, which is a bit odd for a terminal cancer patient.

In truth, their decision had more to do with Britain's strict laws on assisted death. If David's doctors administered extra morphine and David died, they could be held criminally liable. David died in 2012, and according to Leith, he suffered the whole time. David actually needed to refuse antibiotics and allow a pneumonia infection to kill him. Since her brother's ordeal, Leith has become a proponent for assisted dying, standing up for others who are made to suffer in similar circumstances and pressuring England's government to revise the law.

Rachael Ray's family was blamed for her aunt's death

Rachael Ray has gone beyond celebrity chef-dom and graduated into the realm of straight-up television personality. Her cooking shows have been some of the biggest hits Food Network ever had, and she's even spread out into talk shows, kitchen products, and yes, food for your pets. She's traveled the world and even coined the abbreviation EVOO, an Oxford Dictionary approved term for extra virgin olive oil.

But even Rachael Ray has dark spots in her history, and one of the most tragic of those is the death of her aunt, Geraldine Scuderi. In December of 2013, Scuderi was house-sitting for Ray's mother, Elsa, according to The New York Post. Geraldine went outside to feed some birds, but the door locked behind her, leaving her stuck outside. Security footage showed Scuderi trying to get back in, even attempting to break a window, to escape from the freezing temperatures. She was ultimately unsuccessful, though, and died from exposure at the age of 77.

While this sounds like a horrifying accident, Scuderi's family, namely her daughter and Rachael's cousin, Gina Mesnick, openly blamed Ray and her mother in the press for Scuderi's death, alleging that they were responsible due to "neglect." She never explained these comments, but things only got worse when Ray and her husband were unable to attend the funeral due to a scheduling issue. Neither family has said anything further publicly since.

Pat and Gina Neely didn't have a happy marriage

If you watched Food Network back in the aughts, you might remember a popular show called Down Home with the Neelys, which featured Pat and Gina Neely, a Memphis-based couple famous for their BBQ restaurant. While most TV chefs work alone, the Neelys were a pair, and their on-screen chemistry as a married couple was one of the show's big draws. Often smiling and happy, it seemed like the Neelys were made for each other.

You might have noticed that the Neelys have disappeared from Food Network, however. Reruns of their show still appear sometimes, but for the last decade, no new episodes of Down Home have aired. It turns out the reason why is kind of heartbreaking. The Neelys quietly divorced in 2014, citing irreconcilable differences according to People. It seems that while Pat loved being a celebrity chef, Gina wasn't into it. She says she never wanted to be a chef, she just spent time working at Pat's BBQ restaurant. When offered a show, she expected it to be short lived. In truth, though, it quickly became one of the network's most popular programs.

Eventually, the two just couldn't bridge the rift any more. Pat wanted to be on TV and Gina didn't. According to People, Gina grabbed her purse and a duffle bag and walked out. She hasn't spoken to Pat since.

Juan-Carlos Cruz took disturbing steps to 'help' his wife

Another old-school Food Network star you don't hear much about today is Juan-Carlos Cruz, better known as the "Calorie Commando" from his show of the same name, where he made low-calorie meals. Cruz was a pastry chef by trade, but after appearing on Discovery Health's Body Challenge and losing 43 pounds by switching to a healthier diet, Food Network gave him his own show, according to ABC News. While it wasn't extraordinarily popular, Cruz was a fixture on the channel for a few years.

But all of that stopped mattering in May of 2010, when Juan-Carlos Cruz was arrested for attempting to hire two homeless men to murder his wife, Jennifer Campbell. According to CNN, Cruz approached the men offering them cash. He even gave them the code to access his apartment, says ABC News. The men immediately went to the police because the whole thing was sketchy as all get-out.

After Cruz's arrest, police learned why he was trying to have his wife killed. The couple had been unable to have children after trying for many years. Cruz's wife, a strict Catholic, became suicidal but refused to kill herself due to her faith. Thus, Cruz's attempt to have her murdered, which would kill her but without requiring her to do it herself. It's, uh, kind of messed-up logic. Cruz was sentenced to nine years, which would have ended in 2019. It's not clear where he is now.