Last night at the Regency Village Theatre in Los Angeles, pros, media, Hollywood stars and those lucky enough to score tickets all gathered for the premiere of “Andy Irons: Kissed by God”–the “untold story” of how three-time world champ Andy Irons ended up alone and dead in a Texas hotel room back in 2010. Revealing the deepest, darkest secrets of a deceased superstar on a big screen in front of 1,400 people without being totally macabre was a tall order for directors Todd and Steve Jones of Teton Gravity Research. But somehow they were able to unveil the complexities of Irons’ life without it feeling too exploitive.
The film’s promotion made it clear that Andy's addiction to alcohol, cocaine and prescription drugs, as well as his struggle with a debilitating mental disorder, would be confronted head-on. The stories of Irons’ overdose episode and bouts of paranoia were disturbing, but the rawness in "Andy Irons: Kissed by God" is no more or less shocking than any given episode of A&E's "Intervention." Because the circumstances that lead up to and caused Andy’s death were eschewed by the surf industry for so long, and because it was those closest to Andy who chose to bring them to light, the power lies in the transparency.
Without dwelling on the details of Andy's low points, the film painted a holistic picture of how Andy became Andy. In elementary school, Andy struggled with a learning disability, which placed him in special education classes at a young age. Despite his learning disability and his struggles with bipolar disorder–which would rear its head unexpectedly during his first year on tour–he would grow to figure out how to dismantle six-time world champion (at the time) Kelly Slater in a heat–something no other surfer could figure out how to do at the time.
Andy’s years on Tour were recapped chronologically in the film, and as career highlights flashed across the screen, the viewer can’t help but remember why we continue to see Andy as “The People’s Champ,” even as rumors of his darker side are confirmed. The viewer roots for Andy and, in denial, hopes for an alternate ending while the tragic and inevitable truth lurks in the back of the mind until the film pulls it to the front–with a voicemail to his wife Lyndie from his deathbed.
One of the most heart-breaking parts of the story is watching Andy's wife Lyndie stick by the side of her husband throughout all his high and low moments. In a way, Lyndie and the rest of the Irons family fulfill Andy's wish with the film. Andy wanted to somehow help kids struggling with the same disorders as him through making a film and said that if his project changes one kid's life, then it would be worth it.
“Andy Irons: Kissed by God” is many things: an attempt at peeling back the layers of an extremely complex man, a document of Andy Irons’ legacy, a film that tries to correct the false narrative surrounding his death (that most fans never believed anyways) and something that invokes conversation on once-taboo topics of addiction and mental illness. The film is a bit hard to watch, it’s a difficult story with a tragic ending. Did watching it feel morbid? Not as much when the credits started to roll and the audience began to applause.
Read an interview with the director here.
To see if there’s an upcoming screening near you, click here.