There are few people on earth with more famous friends than longtime Hollywood manager Shep Gordon. Although, few people on earth even know who Shep is. For those unfamiliar with the name, he was the iconoclastic manager to some of the bigger stars in show business, from Alice Cooper to Emeril Lagasse. Those two men owe much of their celebrity status to this brilliant manager; fortunately, true to his admiration of karma, Shep is now getting a favour in return and is the star of his own documentary.
Supermensch: The Legend of Shep Gordon is not just a supremely entertaining glimpse at the high life of Hollywood, but also a sympathetic look at a man who achieved much in his life, partied with the most illustrious friends at the most lavish parties, but had a gaping hole inside. Shep’s journey is a Hollywood story as classic as the stars he served, and the doc is loaded with tales so unbelievable that they just have to be true. You could not make this stuff up.
Supermensch marks the directorial debut of Mike Myers, who stepped away from the spotlight for the last two years to work on this tribute to his close friend. Filled with juicy stories about world-famous celebrities, the film could be an hour longer and still not break much ground with the manager’s tall tales. Myers is an actor who attained global fame in a trilogy of films where he played a variety of characters, so it is of little surprise that he is smitten and enchanted with a multi-faceted subject who has his own creative mojo.
A product of his time, Shep was a drifting graduate with dreams of being a parole officer who ended up befriending – and representing – some of the biggest names in music. Among his clients were Rick James, Blondie and, surprisingly, Canadian songbird Anne Murray. With his joker’s grin, moustache and salt and pepper hair, Shep bares an uncanny resemblance to another of his clients, Groucho Marx, who Shep also shares a sly charm around women with. In one of the doc’s funniest moments, Michael Douglas mentions that, “Shep doesn’t always think with his head,” as the Oscar-winning actor motions toward his groin. (Douglas’s Basic Instinct co-star, Sharon Stone, was one of Shep’s many girlfriends.)
Shep had a knack at being at the right place at the right time, and used this fortune to connect with all the right people and figure out the right ways to promote rising stars to a competitive industry. How did he launch Teddy Pendergrass into an American sex symbol? Shep realized that women were attracted to the singer’s smooth voice and skin, and so he concocted the idea for “ladies only” concerts, a move which led to Pendergrass getting the nickname, “The Black Elvis.”
Myers also has enough cash left over from his two billion-dollar franchises and enough free time on his hands to unearth archive news clips that are four decades old. One wonders how he compiled hazy photographs from the late 1960s, of a green Shep smoking grass in a Beverly Hills hotel room with Jim Morrison, Jimi Hendrix and Janis Joplin. As the titular manager testifies, upon bumping into Hendrix and Joplin at his hotel, after he moved to L.A. to make it as a probation officer – yes, you read that correctly – he explained to the musicians that he was Jewish. “You should be a manager,” Hendrix replied, adding he knew of a guy who needed some representation. That man was Alice Cooper, who has remained best buddies with Shep even 45 years later.
Shep tells the best stories, and Myers captures the hedonism and hilarity by unearthing gems in archive footage. We learn that Shep married a Playboy playmate and shared his cat with next-door neighbour Cary Grant, after the feline abandoned Shep’s house for the actor’s pad. He was also a film producer in the heyday of independent cinema and pioneered the concept of the celebrity chef. While the actor-turned-director clearly idolizes Shep, the film is not always the most ringing endorsement. At points, the manager comes across as cocky and controlling. During tours, Shep wore a shirt with the words, “No head, no backstage pass,” proudly printed on the front. Regardless, there are a few notes missing from this brief documentary. The film almost entirely skips Shep’s childhood and upbringing, as well as his family’s reaction to his sudden career change.
Myers’ doc, which he co-directs with Beth Aala, does look at Shep through rose-coloured glasses, but the filmmakers get some wrenching material from the “supermensch” on some of the saddest moments of his life. In one of the most poignant sections from the film, Gordon laments the stars he knew that burned out, whether from a substance, the pressures of fame or the inability to keep their fortunes. Although Shep got married a few times but never had children of his own, he protected his clients and friends the way a father does a son, but he could only be a “father figure.”
The film does shove a lot into 85 minutes, but it does not feel nearly long enough to encompass the scope of such a legendary behind-the-scenes superstar. Myers’ connections in the industry – no shortage of whom count Shep as a close and essential friend – help to crowd the doc with colourful commentary, but there is never any clutter. It’s insightful and entertaining the whole way through.
Supermensch: The Legend of Shep Gordon is more than just a flurry of incredible backstage stories and a throwback to tales of excesses and indulgences in the entertainment business. It is an emotionally satisfying film about a man who brought celebrities the feeling of family on the road, while looking to start a family of his own. Myers’ and Aala’s doc is a riotously entertaining and deeply moving celebration of Shep’s life and at only 85 minutes long, it’s a real shame that we couldn’t be with him the “Supermensch” for longer.