How Shep Gordon Became a Real ‘Supermensch’
Comedian Mike Myers found the perfect vehicle to make his directorial debut: “Supermensch The Legend of Shep Gordon.”
The title makes it sound like another Myers comedy, a Jewish “Wayne’s World” or “Austin Powers.” In fact, it is an extremely well-executed documentary about one of the most captivating figures in the history of rock and roll.
Shep Gordon is not someone you’ve likely heard of. He managed Alice Cooper, Teddy Pendergrass, and Pink Floyd (inexplicably for just nine days), among others. He created the celebrity chef category. And he lived a remarkable life — something between a frat boy’s fantasy and a rabbi’s delight.
Even better, from Myers’s point of view, Gordon is a brilliant raconteur with a vivid memory that apparently survived the prestigious amount of drugs he consumed. Part of Myers’s success here is simply based on his ability to point a camera and press record.
Gordon grew up in a Jewish family in Oceanside, New York, and accidentally found a career in show business after he was slugged in the face by Janis Joplin. A word of explanation:
A Jewish liberal, Gordon moved to California to become a juvenile parole officer and, in theory, help children walk the straight-and-narrow. When it turned out the young delinquents repaid his efforts by kicking his tukhes, Gordon checked into the Hollywood Landmark Motel in search of an alternative career. There, upon hearing strange noises in the courtyard outside his room, he interrupted what he presumed was a rape in progress.
It turned out to be Joplin and Jimmy Hendrix in the throes of passion. She was so upset by his barging in, she punched him out. Hendrix, on the other hand, gave Gordon career advice: “Are you Jewish? You should be a manager.”
Gordon took the suggestion, if only because managing rock stars provided a cover for his other nascent career, dealing in, uh, pharmaceuticals. By all accounts, he fully availed himself and enjoyed the rock and roll life. He wore a T-shirt that read “No head, no backstage pass” — and meant it. He was a regular at the Playboy mansion, married (briefly) a centerfold model, and dated Sharon Stone.
But he also was a creative manager who even made white bread Canadian songstress Anne Murray seem cool. He genuinely cared about his clients and fought for them. He got Pendergrass and Luther Vandross out of what was known as the Chitlin Circuit, where they frequently didn’t get paid. People who’d tried that before got themselves hurt — but Gordon didn’t care.
Beyond that, what was notably different was Gordon’s sense of morality. In the early days, he and Cooper had to sneak out of motel rooms without paying or left bad checks in their wake. When they became successful, Gordon went back and paid off those bills.
It wasn’t all about the money. He became what Michael Douglas calls a JewBu, and helped the Dali Llama in his travels around the country as a volunteer. He managed Groucho Marx in the latter stages of his life and helped reorganize his finances, all for free. He financially supported the four grandchildren of a former girlfriend when their mother died unexpectedly — and became part of their lives.
At one point he realized his hedonistic lifestyle was not headed in the right direction, so he retired to Hawaii, where he bought a beach-front manse on Maui. He ran an open house, where all friends were welcome. Myers, who met Gordon when he worked with Alice Cooper on the first “Wayne’s World,” recalls a period where he was going through a rough patch.
Though he didn’t know Gordon all that well, Myers called him and asked if he could hang out at Shep’s Hawaii digs for a few days. He stayed for two months.
Clearly “Supermensch” is more a love letter than an unbiased look at Gordon’s rock and roll life. Everyone interviewed — Emeril Lagasse, Tom Arnold, Sly Stallone, Fab 5 Freddy, and Willie Nelson — all sing his praises.
Are all the stories true? Probably not. Does it make a difference? Hardly. If they were true, the film wouldn’t be as much fun.
Myers did an excellent job amassing and editing the material, interviews, archival footage and creatively fashioned reenactments. You’ll walk out of the theater wishing Shep was a friend of yours.