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Documentary reveals struggles and triumphs of world champion surfer Andy Irons

Andy Irons, a three-time world champion surfer, died in 2010 at the age of 32 after battling bipolar disorder and opioid addiction. A new documentary, "Andy Irons: Kissed By God," explores Irons' experiences and how they resonate in a larger conversation about mental health and addiction. NewsHour Weekend's Megan Thompson sat down with Steve Jones, the film’s director.

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  • ANDY IRONS CLIP FROM FILM:

    You ever heard of being kissed by god. Cause that's pretty much what it is. For those 10, 3,2,1 second, it's like god came down and gave you kiss and you then you just that the whole rest of your life trying to get that first wave or the first barrel of the first turn.

  • MEGAN THOMPSON:

    The documentary "Andy Irons: Kissed by God" tells the story of one of the world's most talented and famous competitive surfers.

  • ANDY IRONS CLIP FROM FILM:

    Surfing's my life. One hundred percent. I live and breath surfing.

  • MEGAN THOMPSON:

    Andy Irons was born and raised in Hawaii. He started surfing when he was just seven years old. He went professional at 20 and quickly became a star. He gained lucrative sponsorship deals with brands like Billabong.

  • STEVE JONES:

    Like when you watched him surf, it was so explosive and unpredictable and so totally committed.

  • MEGAN THOMPSON:

    Steve Jones co-directed "Andy Irons: Kissed by God".

  • STEVE JONES:

    I remember watching Andy and his brother Bruce surf growing up as a kid and my brothers and I being like, wow, there's, look at these guys. There's something different about them. And it was just this, this brashness and radicalness that I think both of those brothers exuded.

  • MEGAN THOMPSON:

    The film chronicles Irons' struggles and triumphs as he traveled the globe to compete. Irons initially came in dead last on his first world tour in 1999… only to make a comeback and win three world titles back to back.

    Andy's brother – Bruce – was also a successful and popular surfer. Jones says the Irons brothers didn't grow up rich.

  • STEVE JONES:

    They came from a very simple upbringing, which I think in many ways later in life helped with… People felt that Andy was a very relatable character, and he was referred to as the people's champ as he started to rise up and realize these successes. So kind of a cool, almost rags-to-riches story.

  • MEGAN THOMPSON:

    But Jones says there was another side of Andy Irons. One rarely seen by the public. As the film reveals, he struggled with bipolar disorder for years. Here he is at home, after winning his first world title.

  • ANDY IRONS CLIP FROM FILM:

    It's just something I don't know. It's just a lot of thoughts,a lot of just stuff going on. I try to not let it get to me but I'm just only human. It just gets to me sometimes and I get overwhelmed. I try not to get overwhelmed but it's hard.

  • STEVE JONES:

    Like he can't figure out why he isn't more happy, more elated that he won the world title. He's deeply troubled, and he's talking about, you know, needing something to turn him around, and refuel him. I think that that was a lot of the behind the scenes that people just never saw with Andy. It wasn't just this elated rise to fame, and success, and you know, fortune.

  • MEGAN THOMPSON:

    Irons self-medicated with alcohol and drugs… Made easier by the lifestyle of partying that surrounded him. He eventually developed an addiction.

  • BRUCE IRONS CLIP FROM FILM:

    You know he was smoking weed when he was younger. He'd smoke a lot of weed. And then if it wasn't weed, you know, then drinking. A lot of drinking. Then coke. A lot of coke and drinking.

  • MEGAN THOMPSON:

    A massive archive of never-before-seen footage – and in-depth interviews with friends and family – help tell the story of Irons' incredible highs and debilitating lows, including episodes of paranoia.

  • CLIPS FROM FILM:

    CLAY ABUBO: He got to the place where we were staying. He got in there, he closed up the curtains, he says uh "they're out there. They're everywhere." We don't know who "they" were.BRUCE IRONS: Doors shut, windows, drapes down. They're following me. Like out of the movies.ANOTHER FRIEND: He like wen off the deep end.

  • MEGAN THOMPSON:

    How much did the people around him know what he was dealing with at the time?

  • STEVE JONES:

    You know, a lot of people that we've spoken to weren't necessarily aware of the bipolar disorder or the mental illness. Like, I think that the drug thing was pretty prevalent. Andy talked about wanting to come out with his story and go clean and tell the world like, "Hey, this is who I am and this is what I've been struggling with. And I have been to rehab." There were, you know, some people encouraging him to do that and some people going, "You can't talk about that." Like, "You're a well-paid pro athlete. The face of several different brands. And that's a story that we don't want to tell, we're not comfortable telling."

  • MEGAN THOMPSON:

    Irons eventually became addicted to opioids and heroin.

  • BRUCE IRONS CLIP FROM FILM:

    The pill runs a hard one to kick, And that's the one that grabbed a hold of my brother. Grabbed a hold of a lot of us. It took down a whole bunch of people. That seemed like that was the beginning of the end for that big run that my brother had.

  • MEGAN THOMPSON:

    Irons married his wife, Lyndie, in 2007. She describes some of her husband's lowest moments and her struggle to keep it all a secret.

  • LYNDIE IRONS CLIP FROM FILM:

    "And he always said don't you dare tell anyone. So I had to go to freakin food land and act like everything was fine and I had a like a dying heroin addicted husband like at home. Like it was. I look back now and I wish I didn't, I was just trying to protect him."

  • STEVE JONES:

    A lot of his friends would go and, you know, literally try to hunt down the people that were supplying it to Andy. So there were some people who were aggressively really trying to help him and cut it off at the source,

  • MEGAN THOMPSON:

    In 2010, with his wife Lyndie, 8 months pregnant, Irons traveled to Puerto Rico for a competition, but ended up too sick to compete. On his way back, he stopped in Dallas on a layover. He was found dead the next day in his hotel room. He was 32.

  • STEVE JONES:

    When Andy first passed, there was a lot of mystery around what actually happened.

  • MEGAN THOMPSON:

    So people just, there was like silence around his…

  • STEVE JONES:

    There was a lot of silence. I mean the first thing that came out was that it was dengue fever, which was just totally fabricated.

  • MEGAN THOMPSON:

    It turned out that irons had a heart attack. An autopsy showed he had antidepressants, cocaine and methadone in his system.

  • MEGAN THOMPSON:

    How did you get past that silence that surrounded his death? How did you break through it?

  • STEVE JONES:

    Hawaii's an interesting place because there's a lot of pride and aloha and a lot of protectiveness of family and friends and things like that.// We were able to really just take the time and be patient and earn people's trust.

  • MEGAN THOMPSON:

    Five years after Irons' death, his brother Bruce and widow Lyndie finally agreed to talk.

  • BRUCE IRONS CLIP FROM FILM:

    Now that you're not here I realize, you know, I'm alone in this world. Everything that you felt I felt. You were my hero growing up. You still are.

  • LYNDIE IRONS CLIP FROM FILM:

    I don't even know how to explain it in words how much I miss you. And I want to tell you that you're amazing and I'm so proud of you and I just wish I could hug you and hold you and kiss you one last time.

  • STEVE JONES:

    The big thing when we started to sit down and do interviews was just Bruce and Lyndie going, you know, people would call them and be like, "Hey, these guys are coming. What do you want me to say?" And Bruce was like, "You guys can tell all. Tell everything. We want it out there. We're telling the true story. Go all in."

  • JOEL GUY CLIP FROM FILM:

    It was heartbreaking to see, because sometimes he wouldn't be able to handle it. And then you just go, you now, there's an addiction here that's much stronger. It wasn't an intentional thing. It was heartbreaking and I know it was a bummer for him. But those pressures were contant for him.

  • STEVE JONES:

    They'd been holding this in for, you know, seven years. We would hear the rumbling s of people being like, hey, have you been in the therapy chair yet?

  • MEGAN THOMPSON:

    They called it the therapy chair?

  • STEVE JONES:

    They called it the therapy chair. Every interview would literally end with the whole crew in tears.

  • MEGAN THOMPSON:

    The film will be available on iTunes in September. Jones hopes the film will generate a public dialogue about addiction and mental illness.

  • STEVE JONES:

    Even from the time the trailer for the film came out, and now with the release of the film, we've had a remarkable number of people coming to us going, "Hey thank you guys so much," like, "My friend checked into rehab after watching that movie," or "My brother saw the trailer and he's now in rehab, and he's trying to get help." We all have struggles, let's talk about it man.

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