The Unhappy Side Of Alton Brown Viewers Don't See On TV

Over the years, Alton Brown has made a name for himself in the culinary world, appearing on countless Food Network programs, authoring cookbooks, and even producing a live variety show. However, the multi-talented star is probably best known for creating and starring in "Good Eats," an inventive series that changed the face of culinary television and maintains a loyal fanbase decades after its original premiere. 

It's easy for viewers to feel like they genuinely know their favorite TV show hosts from watching them every week, especially when they have been around as long as Brown. However, the lives these celebrities lead look very different offscreen. Alton Brown's snarky, whip-smart personality and sarcastic sense of humor may give fans the idea that life has been smooth for him, but there have been plenty of dark periods in his past. Like all of us, Brown has faced tragedies and challenges that have shaped his life and character. Taking a look at these difficult parts of his life makes it even easier to appreciate his unforgettable onscreen persona. 

He felt like an outsider as a child

Moving to a new state can be difficult for any kid, and Alton Brown was no exception. He grew up in North Hollywood, California, but his Georgia-born parents moved the family back to their home state when Brown was 7 years old. In an interview for the Southern Living podcast "Biscuits & Jam," Brown explains that the move was inspired by his parents' desire to buy a radio station, an opportunity that presented itself in the small town of Cleveland, Georgia. He further recalls attending a school where students often went to class without wearing shoes, something that would have been very uncommon in his urban hometown. 

Unfortunately, as Brown described to The Wall Street Journal, he struggled to adjust to his new classmates' way of life and never truly felt like he belonged. The contrast between the West Coast and the Southeast was a culture shock that Brown just couldn't move past during his childhood. To make matters worse, Brown's outspoken nature made him an easy target for violence from other students. Brown wasn't afraid to critique the differences he saw between himself and others, which earned him more enemies than friends. As he wrote: "I got beat up a lot because I couldn't keep my mouth shut." 

His father died mysteriously

Alton Brown's father achieved his dream of buying a radio station when he moved his family back to Georgia. Sadly, he didn't get to enjoy that dream for very long, dying just a few years later. The future "Good Eats" host was only in sixth grade at the time, and the mysterious nature of his father's death made it even more difficult to bear. Alton Brown Sr. was discovered with a plastic bag over his head, and according to The New York Times, authorities weren't able to declare an official cause of death. 

Although there has never been a definitive ruling on whether his father died by suicide or homicide, Brown has made it clear which he believes is more likely. In an essay in The Wall Street Journal, he explains that his father didn't seem like the type of person who would commit suicide. He also points out that the newspaper his father owned angered some readers, suggesting that this may have resulted in enemies. Unfortunately, Brown's father's death remains unsolved, even five decades later. 

Not long before his death, Brown's father gave him a secondhand alto saxophone, a final gift that had great meaning to him as a child. As Brown explains in his essay: "The sax got me through a lot." Brown has continued playing saxophone as an adult, appearing on stage many times and posting about it on his Instagram page. 

Good Eats took over his life

"Good Eats" first premiered in 1999 and catapulted Brown to culinary TV stardom, sparking fond comparisons with Bill Nye "The Science Guy" because of its innovative look at the science behind food preparation. The show ended in 2012, but its enduring popularity kept it at the top of many fans' minds and spawned two revivals. In 2018, Brown returned with "Good Eats: Reloaded," a short spin-off bringing back some of the original series' recipes. A year later, "Good Eats: The Return" gave fans a chance to relive some of the magic of the beloved classic with a more modern spin. 

Although "Good Eats" was undeniably vital to Brown's career, working on the series took a toll on his personal life. Since it ended, Brown has revealed that creating the show was labor-intensive and time-consuming. For example, in an interview with Larry King, Brown explains that each episode required hundreds of pages of research, which was stressful. He told King: "I crossed the 250-episode line and realized I was tired." Stepping away from a long-term project is a huge step, but it was likely the best thing for Brown's work-life balance. 

His first marriage ended in divorce

Alton Brown and his first wife, DeAnna, married in 1994 when Brown's television career was still in its early stages. In an interview with Channel Guide Magazine, Brown describes how DeAnna stood by his side through the difficult phase of attending culinary school. The two even worked together on "Good Eats," where DeAnna served as an executive producer. The couple also had a daughter, Zoey, and stayed together throughout Brown's rise to Food Network fame. However, the two decades of their union weren't always happy; they separated in 2014, and Alton later filed for divorce. 

Four years later, Brown told People the reason this longstanding relationship fell apart: "We changed, the world changed, and she went one way, and I went the other way." Although he also admits they were likely better off apart, adjusting to life after the end of such a significant relationship isn't easy for anyone. However, this difficult event eventually led to happiness for the culinary show host. Brown met his second wife, Elizabeth Ingram, after hiring her as an interior designer for his post-divorce home. 

A cast member from the original Good Eats Died

Crewmates on long-running television series often develop a deep camaraderie, becoming a memorable part of each other's lives. Brown took to social media to announce the sad news when his "Good Eats" castmate Deb Duchon died in 2019. His post on X, formerly known as Twitter describes Duchon as "... smart and passionate and a lot of fun to work with even if she did always change the script." Duchon frequently appeared in the original series, showing up at just the right moments when Brown wished he had a nutritional anthropologist around. In addition to his post on X, Brown also paid homage to Duchon in "Raising The Bar: A Reload" in the second season of "Good Eats: Reloaded." Toward the end of the episode, Brown proposes a toast: "Here's to absent nutritional anthropologists." The episode also features an official dedication to Duchon before the final segment. 

Duchon was a recurring character across 13 seasons of the show and clearly left an impression on fans. In a Reddit thread created after her death, several viewers describe her as one of the most informative aspects of the series. Off-screen, Duchon was a real-life nutritional anthropologist who taught in the Georgia University system and studied food culture within her local community. Duchon's interest in the anthropological side of the culinary world also led her to found the Facebook group Culinary Historians of Atlanta with Chef Christine Seelye-King in 2009. 

He faces mental health challenges offscreen

Mental health issues aren't always easy for people to discuss, especially for those who spend their lives in the public eye. More often than not, celebrities and other public figures keep these concerns under wraps for the sake of maintaining their onscreen personas. Although Alton Brown has admitted to struggling with his mental health throughout his life, he has only become more transparent about it in recent years. According to Brown, he doesn't reveal that side of his personality to his fans. As he described in a Forbes interview: "I go through very dark fits of depression. You don't see that on television — I don't let that part of me out."

However, he shared his mental health issues with his Instagram followers in 2021. Brown was hard at work editing a cookbook at the time, a process that can take a mental toll on any writer. Brown posted a photo of himself sitting on his kitchen floor with the caption: "And with the book editing comes the depression." In a display of just how well-loved the culinary show creator is, Instagram rallied around him after this post, with many fans offering encouraging words of support. 

If you or someone you know needs help with mental health, please contact the Crisis Text Line by texting HOME to 741741, call the National Alliance on Mental Illness helpline at 1-800-950-NAMI (6264), or visit the National Institute of Mental Health website.