Despite half a century of managing rock stars, movie stars, comedians and chefs, Shep Gordon remains largely unknown to the public. He has been interviewed occasionally, but his biography at IMDb is a scant 20 words long, and Wikipedia has no entry on him at all.
That may change with the arrival of a new documentary, "Supermensch: The Legend of Shep Gordon."
"Supermensch," which opened in Manhattan last Friday and is scheduled to open locally this Friday, is an affectionate tribute to a man whose clients have attained single-name celebrity: Raquel, as in Welch; Emeril, as in Lagasse; Alice, as in Cooper. The movie offers little in the way of scandal or gossip, but if you've ever wondered how Anne Murray became hip or how chefs became the new rock stars, "Supermensch" provides some answers.
The film marks the directorial debut of Mike Myers, of "Wayne's World" fame. If that seems random, consider the wide range of folks who appear in the movie: Sylvester Stallone, Sammy Hagar, Michael Douglas, Willie Nelson. If Janis Joplin and Jimi Hendrix were alive today, they might have appeared as well.
So why has Gordon himself stayed so thoroughly out of the spotlight? Partly, it's because he knows what the spotlight can do. "I don't see any real intrinsic value in fame," says Gordon, who now lives on the secluded island of Maui. "If you need to make your living through fame, through celebrity, then you have to deal with that. But if you don't have to, then it's just flirting with danger."
A lanky 68-year-old with curly hair and a hiccupping laugh, Gordon was raised in Oceanside by first-generation Jewish parents. In a phone interview, he recalls his old neighborhood as idyllic (as a kid, he delivered this very paper on Henrietta Avenue) but describes his mother as "cruel." "I loved Oceanside, but I didn't like being in my home," Gordon says. He describes the day he left for the University of Buffalo as "the first day of my life."
The second, perhaps, was the day that an aimless young Gordon stumbled into Hollywood's Landmark Motor Hotel and befriended both Joplin and Hendrix. As Gordon tells the story, it was Hendrix who suggested he become a manager and even steered him to a client: Alice Cooper.
Gordon wound up making Cooper an unlikely star by helping concoct several now-infamous stunts, including the chicken that met its doom at 1969's Toronto Rock and Roll Revival and the girls' panties packaged with Cooper's 1972 album, "School's Out." More than 40 years later, the shock rocker and the kid from Oceanside remain business partners and dear friends.
"Shep and I have never had a contract," Cooper says in the film. "I don't think we've taken the business as seriously as some people."
Through it all, Gordon cultivated a karmic philosophy he called "coupons," keeping a running tab of what his clients owed to whom. Early in Cooper's career, for instance, the band sometimes skipped out on hotel bills; when the cash began flowing, Gordon went back and paid them. "That's what you need to do," Gordon says, "if you're going to look in the mirror and be happy about it."
Is it really possible, as the film suggests, that nobody in the hard-driving, sharp-elbowed entertainment business has heard a bad word about Shep Gordon? "I don't mind going on the record and saying, 'Well, I have,'" says film producer Carolyn Pfeiffer, who collaborated with Gordon on such art-house hits as "El Norte" and "Stop Making Sense" during the 1980s. "But if you asked me now to really name his enemies," she adds, "I'd be very hard-pressed."
If anything, Gordon owes his newfound fame to a good deed. In the film, Myers notes that he once crashed at Gordon's house during "a very hard time" in his life. It seems that "Supermensch" is Myers' coupon to his friend.
"Funny you put it that way, I never thought of it," Gordon says. "But I do think he wanted to do something for me and just tell my story."
Correction: An earlier version of this story had the wrong date for the Long Island premiere of "Supermensch."