Anthony Bourdain’s Widow Denies She Authorized Controversial AI Voiceover in ‘Roadrunner’


Anthony Bourdain’s widow Ottavia Bourdain denied she authorized the use of AI technology in the documentary Roadrunner to replicate the late chef’s voice.

‘Roadrunner’: The Life, Death and Passion of Anthony Bourdain

In a statement to Variety following the controversy regarding the voiceover, director Morgan Neville said: “There were a few sentences that Tony wrote that he never spoke aloud. With the blessing of his estate and literary agent we used AI technology. It was a modern storytelling technique that I used in a few places where I thought it was important to make Tony’s words come alive.”

However, in a tweet Thursday, Ottavia Bourdain questioned Neville’s “blessing” claims, “I certainly was NOT the one who said Tony would have been cool with that.”

I certainly was NOT the one who said Tony would have been cool with that.

— Ottavia (@OttaviaBourdain) July 16, 2021

(While Anthony and Ottavia Bourdain separated in 2016, the couple did not officially divorce before Anthony’s death in 2018, leaving her as heir and executor of his estate.)

A rep for Roadrunner did not respond to Rolling Stone’s request for comment.

Neville explained in an interview with GQ: “We fed more than 10 hours of Tony’s voice into an AI model. The bigger the quantity, the better the result. We worked with four companies before settling on the best. We also had to figure out the best tone of Tony’s voice: His speaking voice versus his ‘narrator’ voice, which itself changed dramatically over the years.”

However, Roadrunner features no disclaimer about the AI voiceover, sparking accusations that its usage is both unethical and unsettling. Neville brashly told the New Yorker of the criticism, “We can have a documentary-ethics panel about it later.”

Rolling Stone recently interviewed Neville — the director of documentaries like 20 Feet From Stardom and Won’t You Be My Neighbor? — about why he took on Bourdain’s story. “He was this complicated character. And I felt like Bourdain was a fellow traveler — he was kind of a documentary filmmaker. What he was doing was using his platform to tell stories about people on the far side of the planet, and helping us understand how, through culture and food and music, these are real people with their own hopes and dreams and loves. That’s something that I felt like I’ve been doing forever,” Neville said. “[His show] was a real public service. I can’t think of anybody who showed more of the world to Middle America, ever.”

‘Roadrunner’: Morgan Neville on Making His Anthony Bourdain Documentary