The Legend of Shep Gordon

Thursday, July 31, 2014

How many people can claim to have made Alice Cooper a star by releasing his record albums wrapped in women’s panties? Who else can take credit for the entire concept of the celebrity chef? Did anyone else share joint custody of a cat with Cary Grant? Supermensch: The Legend of Shep Gordon goes out of its way to insist that its subject — a long-lived rock manager and Hollywood talent agent — is a one-of-a-kind character, and the stories told by Gordon and his many famous friends seem to back that up.

As indulgent as the movie is, though, you sense that Los Angeles is full of Shep Gordons, unknown but necessary architects of our popular culture. Some are mensches, some are monsters, many are, probably, both. Still, it’s to his credit that most of Gordon’s clients remain enthusiastic fans, including this movie’s director, comedian Mike Myers.

And the stories are pretty fantastic. Gordon was just another hippie with a sociology degree when he rolled into Los Angeles at the dawn of the 1970s and got punched out one night by a woman at a motel pool. The woman turned out to be Janis Joplin, who introduced him to Jimi Hendrix, who said to Gordon, “Are you Jewish? You should be a manager.” Within a few weeks he was repping bands, and Hendrix told him it might not be a bad idea to print up some business cards.

In photos of the era, Gordon looks like a possessed nerd, and he prospered by thinking outside the box and remembering the three rules of talent management: “Get the money, always remember to get the money, never forget to always remember to get the money.” It was Gordon who turned Cooper into a star of doom-rock vaudeville by currying the disgust of parents and the media. It was Gordon who made the white-bread singer Anne Murray seem hip by booking her at Los Angeles’ trendy Troubadour and photographing her with then-bad-boys John Lennon and Harry Nilsson. When studly soul singer Teddy Pendergrass went solo, the idea for his frenzied ladies-only concerts was Gordon’s.

Gordon is on camera for much of Supermensch. He resembles a gentleman accountant these days, with a hiccupping laugh and few visible scars from his decades of roistering and womanizing. A practicing Buddhist and converted foodie, he has served dinner to the Dalai Lama and his Maui home’s kitchen is a refuge for stars seeking asylum, including the career-slumping Myers.

Yet for all the love emanating from client-pals Michael Douglas, Sylvester Stallone, Emeril Lagasse, and Steven Tyler, there’s a sadness to this movie that remains just off camera. Despite two brief marriages and many girlfriends, Gordon is spending his retirement years alone. He’s an unofficial granddad to an old flame’s family, yet when he suffered a heart attack in 2012, he woke to find only his personal assistant by his side.

You don’t prosper in the entertainment industry by being a mensch to everyone, and those other voices are certainly never heard from in this film. Made by an actor with time on his hands—Myers is still in limbo after the fiascos of The Cat in the Hat and The Love GuruSupermensch is a small, loving mash note that skirts real pain.

“Every famous person I met was damaged by the fame,” Gordon insists at one point. We never learn how close he came to the fire himself.

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