You may feel you’re a better person, just for having watched “Supermensch: The Legend of Shep Gordon.” Gordon, personal manager to musicians, celebrity chefs and film royalty such as Michael Douglas and Sylvester Stallone, and friend to everybody, especially the Dalai Lama, is a Hollywood “type” worthy of a documentary by virtue of the way he made his clients his family.
Nurturing, ethical and compassionate, he helped exploited rock groups collect their bookings from shady promoters and club owners, helped exploited black entertainers break the extortionate powers of the “Chitlin’ Circuit” and “invented” the concept of “celebrity chef” — when cooks used to be treated as just “the help” in the dark days of American dining.
A balding Larry David look-alike with a rumpled, unassuming demeanor and an always-ready “seal bark” of a laugh, Gordon reflects on his life’s work and the price of fame. Adoring client Mike Myers, filming Gordon in “take this to heart” close-ups, lets the manager relate “the talk” he gave clients at the height of his fame and influence.
“If I do my job perfectly, I will probably kill you.”
Myers’ engaging documentary about the way Hollywood really works lets Gordon fill the screen with anecdotes, backed up by interviews with his clients, about coming up with the gimmicks and connections that made Alice Cooper an early ’70s “Horror Show” rock star, the way he got Alice’s fame to rub off on his next client, Canadian soft-pop crooner Anne Murray, his dabbling in the early days of indie film distribution and his onetime enthusiasm for drugs, sex and the money to buy a beachfront home on Maui.
He stumbled into managing after abandoning a hoped-for career as a probation officer by checking into the right Hollywood hotel and having a generous supply of drugs, which got him in good with Jimi Hendrix, Janis Joplin and Jim Morrison, which in turn put him on the road with Alice Cooper, working at it until “we were both millionaires.”
Gordon chuckles over what could have been a more guilt-wracked origins story. Yeah, he was a drug middleman, and Janis, Jim and Jimi are all dead. Cooper went through an alcoholic spiral and came out the other side a wrinkled old golfer with long hair and a course-appropriate Bob Hope wardrobe. “Fame” did it. But having a fellow imbiber and sometime supplier of goodies helped. The word “enabler” would be a more frank way of treating the reservations he has about his career. He lured Teddy Pendergrass into the fold by daring him to keep up with him as a partier. Much later, he tried and failed to save Pendergrass from an accident Gordon suggests was “karma.”
Friends, from Willie Nelson to Michael Douglas, talk about his love of the ladies — multiple marriages — his love of children, which he’s never had. Tom Arnold gives lots and lots of testimony.
Gordon has, by his own admission, “spent my life living other people’s lives,” and the flurry of still-photos of parties, concerts, cookouts, hotel rooms and chartered jets backs that up. That level of service to his “family” he traces to the French chef he studied under,
“It’s never about what YOU want.”
But seeing a partial laundry list of his wives and lovers (Sharon Stone is the most famous), we can’t feel sorry for him. And none of them were interviewed for the film.
And thanks to his famous clients, he got cozy with the sage and yet starstruck Dalai Lama, who collects celebrity worshippers the way Billy Graham collected Republicans.
Cooper dominates the first third of “The Legend of Shep Gordon,” and we learn how Gordon put Cooper and Mike Myers together on “Wayne’s World.” Michael Douglas is the main interview subject, the one who calls Gordon a “mensch,” a compassionate guy his friends can rely on.
Stallone, Willie Nelson, basketball coach Don Nelson and Emeril Lagasse sing Gordon’s praises.
Aerosmith’s Steven Tyler labels Gordon a “Jew-Bu,” a Jewish Buddhist, to underline Gordon’s humanitarian nature.
The overall portrait of Gordon that emerges is of a laid-back hustler who never lets you see him sweat, or get tough with the people taking advantage of his clients. A guy who “knows EVERYone,” he’s had a model career, turning favors (“coupons,” he calls them) into good karma for his clients, and clients into the only real family he’s ever needed.
MPAA Rating: R for language, some sexual references, nudity and drug use
Cast: Shep Gordon, Alice Cooper, Sylvester Stallone, Michael Douglas, Emeril Lagasse, Mike Myers
Credits: Directed by Mike Myers. A Radius/TWC release.
Running time: 1:25