For those not familiar with the Yiddish term, a mensch is a person of integrity and honor, an all-around good guy. According to the famous friends, clients and colleagues interviewed in Mike Myers' documentary "Supermensch: The Legend of Shep Gordon," there's no one more deserving of the label. "The word mensch and Shep are synonymous," says Michael Douglas. And Myers, who also appears in his directorial debut, declares, "Shep Gordon is the nicest person I've ever met, hands down."
So why haven't you heard of him? Gordon, who has managed everyone from Alice Cooper (for 43 years) to Emeril Lagasse, is a modest man who has always operated behind the spotlight shining on his famous clients. Myers met Gordon on the set of "Wayne’s World" in 1991, and it took him 20 years to convince the manager to allow him to make the movie. The result is an entertaining and often hilarious portrait filled with bawdy anecdotes.
Starting at the beginning, the story follows Gordon from Long Island to Hollywood, where he landed after a disastrously brief stint as a probation officer. Happenstance found him at a ramshackle motel where he met and befriended Janis Joplin and Jimi Hendrix and lived the drug-fueled lifestyle of a hedonist. Thanks to his connections, he fell into band management, turning struggling shock rocker Cooper into a sensation with a series of outrageous publicity stunts designed to outrage parents and make headlines.
One memorable Cooper stunt was a debutante ball staged at L.A.'s Ambassador Hotel, complete with gorillas, transvestites, and a 400-pound naked woman emerging from a cake. But as "Supermensch" amusingly relates, not all of them worked. A nude Cooper wore a see-through plastic costume on stage, intending to get arrested, but the suit fogged up in the heat, rendering it opaque. And another well-publicized stunt involving shooting Cooper from a cannon — actually, it was a dummy — fizzled miserably in practice. Gordon came up with a brilliant cover. "We made believe we blew up the cannon the night before the show. We had an ambulance and put Alice in it, and we had him do the show in a wheelchair. It was front page news," Gordon laughs at the memory. "It was insane."
Gordon also managed straight-laced singer Anne Murray, and got her some needed street cred by having her photographed with Cooper, John Lennon and Harry Nilsson, which got her into Rolling Stone and on "The Midnight Special" musical variety show in 1973.
Gordon's relationship with soul singer Teddy Pendergrass ended on a tragic note when Pendergrass was paralyzed in a car accident, the film relates. It also explains how Gordon pioneered the concept of the celebrity chef with Emeril Lagasse and other culinary stars, helping them brand themselves with food and kitchen products. He got into movie producing with films like "The Duellists," "Roadie," "Koyaanisqatsi" and "El Norte." But Gordon, however successful, felt there was something missing from his life.
In 1974, he bought a beachfront home in Maui, and he longed for a family to share it with. The man who surrounded himself with young models and hung out at the Playboy Mansion married briefly but he had no children. But when he discovered that a former girlfriend had died and left behind a family, he defacto adopted them, remaining close to them to this day. He'd always practiced what he called "compassionate business, paying someone back for doing something they didn't have to do." But he there was inherent emptiness in his chosen profession.
"I spent my life making people famous, but it has no intrinsic value. Mike [Myers] calls it the industrial waste of creativity, which I think is really valid," Gordon says. "It's a tough fishbowl. The more famous you get, the more your art is available, but like mining, it has toxic waste, which is really hard to live with. Alice has been knocked down a few times. The ones that are lucky are the ones that get back up. Some never get that chance."
Looking for more meaning in life, the Jewish-born Gordon met the Dalai Lama through Sharon Stone — they dated for a while — and became a Buddhist, shedding his former debauched life for a more spiritual and enlightened one. "What you put out is what you get back in some way, shape or form," he says, voicing a karmic principle.
After spending decades making people famous, he's getting a taste of fame with "Supermensch," and he doesn't mind — he's happy with the finished product. Impressed with Myers' thoroughness, he recalls visiting the director's apartment three months into the project: "It was like 'CSI" crime lab, but it was all me, pictures everywhere,” he recalls.
If he could go back and change anything, would he? Gordon answers with typical candor — and laughter. He admits, "I probably would have taken a little less acid."
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