He Was 'One of the Great Storytellers of Our Time'

Two days before chef Eric Ripert found Anthony Bourdain unresponsive in his luxury hotel room in France, the close friends went for a ride in the countryside on a tandem bicycle.

Bourdain died on Friday at the age of 61 of an apparent suicide, French police confirmed to PEOPLE. He and Ripert were in France together while filming an upcoming episode of Bourdain’s award-winning show Anthony Bourdain: Parts Unknown.

“Anthony was a dear friend,” Ripert said in a statement to PEOPLE. “He was an exceptional human being, so inspiring and generous. One of the great storytellers of our time who connected with so many. I wish him peace. My love and prayers are with his family, friends and loved ones.”

On Wednesday, Parts Unknown camera operator and cinematographer Todd Liebler posted a photo of the duo’s “bike date,” as they rode through Colmar, the third-largest commune of the Alsace region in north-eastern France.

Rolling like a kid in #alsace,” Liebler captioned the photo. “Having fun with the #osmo and #anthonybourdain on #partsunknown #lifeontheroad #bikedate.”

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The picture, taken by Michael Steed, showed Bourdain riding behind Ripert as they stopped on the side of the road.

Prior to that, the two had visited a restaurant in Colmar named Wistub La Petite Venise where they posed for pictures with its chef, Alexis Schonstein.

Schonstein shared a picture of the aftermath of filming, thanking Bourdain and Ripert for the “very nice memory.” He later shared a photo of Bourdain from filming after his death, writing, “What a pleasure to have met you.”

Très jolie souvenir! Merci! ???? #wistublapetitevenise #friends #family #work #instagood #colmar #michelin #3stars #chef #ericripert #antonybourdain

A post shared by Alexis Schonstein (@alexis_schonstein) on Jun 5, 2018 at 9:48am PDT

Quel plaisir de vous avoir rencontré! RIP???????? #rip #antonybourdain #colmar #sad #thankyou #merci

A post shared by Alexis Schonstein (@alexis_schonstein) on Jun 8, 2018 at 5:43am PDT

RELATED: From Overcoming Heroin Addiction to Finding Love After Divorce: Anthony Bourdain’s Ups and Downs

CNN mourned the loss of Bourdain in a statement on Friday.

“It is with extraordinary sadness we can confirm the death of our friend and colleague, Anthony Bourdain,” the network said in a statement provided to PEOPLE. “His love of great adventure, new friends, fine food and drink and the remarkable stories of the world made him a unique storyteller. His talents never ceased to amaze us and we will miss him very much. Our thoughts and prayers are with his daughter and family at this incredibly difficult time.”

A Strasbourg police spokesperson confirmed Bourdain’s death to PEOPLE, but would not confirm the cause of death. The manner of death has been classified as a suicide.

Additionally, Colmar, France, public prosecutor Christian de Rocquigny du Fayel told PEOPLE that Bourdain died by hanging at a luxury hotel in Kaysersberg called Le Chambard, and said, “at this stage, nothing suggests the intervention of a third party.”

In a statement provided to PEOPLE, the U.S. Embassy in Paris said, “We can confirm the death of Anthony Bourdain in the Haut-Rhin department of France. We extend our sincere condolences to friends and family. We stand ready to provide appropriate consular service. Out of respect for the family at this difficult time we have no further comment.”

Anthony Bourdain and Eric Ripert

Bourdain and Ripert have a longstanding friendship, going back more than two decades.

Both came to prominence in the New York City restaurant scene around the same time — Bourdain working in kitchens as a dishwasher, prep drone, line cook, sous-chef, and eventual executive chef of famed Big Apple establishments like One Fifth Avenue, Sullivan’s, the Supper Club, and Manhattan’s Brasserie Les Halles.

Meanwhile, Ripert — who was born in Antibes, France — found culinary stardom over at Le Bernardin, where in 1995 at just 29, he earned the restaurant a four-star rating in the New York Times. Multiple awards, like the James Beard Foundation’s prestigious “Top Chef” honor in New York City and the United States, followed suit.

The two regularly appeared together on Bourdain’s shows, including The Food Network’s A Cook’s Life, the Travel Channel’s No Reservations and CNN’s Parts Unknown.

@anthonybourdain thinking it s Halloween&confused dressed as a Chef in @chefjoseandres kitchen for gala dinner @doradobeachreserve w @cheftimlove ...Great weekend in beautiful Puerto Rico #rcreserve

A post shared by Eric Ripert (@ericripert) on Nov 5, 2016 at 3:57pm PDT

The Revenge of The Ripper : in which mountain raised Alpinist, Eric Ripert exacts Terrible Payback for his sufferings in Sichuan Province. #Chamonix

A post shared by anthonybourdain (@anthonybourdain) on Mar 7, 2017 at 9:33am PST

“I like to bring the distinguished three-star Michelin chef and good friend Eric Ripert someplace every year and torture him,” Bourdain joked on a 2017 episode of his show.

We have a great friendship and great respect,” Ripert told CNN’s Explore Parts Unknown in October 2017. “It’s very simple. We’re very good friends. We laugh and it’s comfortable because we can be calm, and sometimes we don’t speak at all and we’ll be happy together. I think he likes that a lot. The shooting is very intense and he’s traveling a lot, and he needs to have a moment of peace during the day, and I think if he was with someone not feeling comfortable with silence and was asking questions and forcing him to talk, he would be very uncomfortable. Also, we don’t see each other a lot so it makes quite a difference, and opportunity to be together.”

If you or someone you know is considering suicide, please contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline at 1-800-273-TALK (8255).

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