By all accounts — at least those shared in Supermensch: The Legend of Shep Gordon, the documentary/love letter from actor-comedian-director Mike Myers that opens today at the Cedar Lee Theatre — semi-retired talent manager Shep Gordon is one standup guy. From Sylvester Stallone to the Dalai Lama, Gordon has made a laundry list of loyal big-name friends over the years, many of whom appear in the film singing his praises. The Long Island liberal’s life in showbiz started by accident. He was tripping on acid when he fell into the company of Janis Joplin and Jimi Hendrix. According to Shep, whose memories are at times understandably hazy, the legendary guitarist suggested he manage Alice Cooper. Although the affiliation started out more as a cover for drug dealing activities, Gordon eventually took the management gig seriously, helping the band develop its theatrical shock rock image (think see-through costuming and bloody chickens) and finding creative ways to build up airplay.
Gordon’s association with Cooper remains to this day, and the two guys are like brothers. But, once Gordon figured out he had a talent for getting his clients much-needed publicity and getting them paid, he expanded his representation to include acts as diverse as Anne Murray, Blondie and Luther Vandross. In managing Teddy Pendergrass, Gordon is credited with helping to break the “chitlin’ circuit” that kept African-American artists from making any real money. And culinary superstar Emeril Lagasse explains how Gordon cooked up the concept of the celebrity chef.
Every story is told with such humor and heart that the film is two-thirds over before you realize you don’t know all that much about Mr. Nice Guy. We uncover bits and pieces, of course. His dad wasn’t that nice. He was the black sheep of the family. He knew how to party, perhaps too much. He loves the ladies, also a bit too much. And, though he often plays host to large groups of adoring celebrities, he’s never really been able to make a relationship—or a family of his own—work.
Clearly, Shep Gordon has lived a really interesting life. He comes off as a great storyteller, eminently likeable and more than a little bit lonely. It’s a fun film and well worth seeing but overall Supermensch is way more of an entertaining tribute to someone a lot of famous men see as a “great guy” than a real portrait of an unlikely kingmaker.
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