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Alice Cooper's manager celebrated in new "Supermensch" documentary
Shep Gordon is not someone who takes easily to being the center of attention.
He's managed musicians -- including Anne Murray, Frankie Valli & the Four Seasons and the late Luther Vandross, Teddy Pendergrass and many others, and continues to guide Detroit-born shock rocker Alice Cooper's career after 45 years together. He's been a restaurateur and created the category of the celebrity chef. And he's been a film producer with credits such as "The Duelists," "Kiss of the Spider Woman," "Betty Blue" and more. His comfort zone is, clearly, behind the scenes, and Gordon is happier at home in the sunlight of Hawaii than in the spotlight of show business.
But that's where he is these days thanks to "Supermensch: The Legend of Shep Gordon," a documentary conceived and directed by Mike Myers that debuted at the 2013 Toronto International Film Festival and won awards at this year's Tribeca Film Festival and Sarasota Film Festival. It opens Friday, June 20, at the Uptown 8 in Birmingham.
"It's so silly," Gordon, 68, says with a laugh buy telephone form his ocean front home in Maui. "Mike probably pitched me on this for eight or nine years, and I always said 'no.' I had very strong feelings about never stepping into the limelight. I didn't see any reason. I've only seen it end in misery for people, and rehab.
"It was hard for me to see the reason why it should live, and I'm a big believer in that."
The initial reason for Gordon's change of heart was whimsical. "All the people who would invite me to celebrity golf tournaments as a plus-one are either married now or dead. I thought maybe if I let Mike make the documentary, that would probably get me on the lists on my own merit." But it was a near-fatal gastro-intestinal disease two years ago that led Gordon to green-light the project.
"I woke up feeling pretty sorry for myself in a hospital, and heavily medicated," Gordon recalls. "(Myers) called up and said, 'What about now? Want to do it?' and I said, 'Absolutely. Let's go.' It was moment of complete weakness."
The result is an insightful, nearly 90-minute examination described by the Hollywood Reporter as "a slopping kiss on an entertainment industry maverick." "Supermensch" traces Gordon's life and career from his upbringing in Oceanside, N.Y., to his studies at SUNY-Buffalo and a failed tenure as a probation officer in Los Angeles that led to a another dalliance selling marijuana. Jimi Hendrix encouraged Gordon to go into management, and one of the Chambers Brothers steered him to the then-fledgling Cooper -- who Gordon helped lead to superstardom with creative business ideas (including moving the group to Detroit, briefly, to build a following and work on its breakthrough album "Love It to Death") and an active role in the group's trademark theatrics.
"Shep always believed, and he'd always been there," Cooper says now. "It's fair to say there would not be an Alice Cooper today if it wasn't for Shep."
Gordon met Myers, in fact, when the latter wanted Cooper to appear in the first "Wayne's World" film in 1991. Gordon drove a hard bargain in forcing Myers to use a new song Cooper was promoting at the time rather than one the classic hits, but the two became close friends after the experience. Gordon, Myers says, is "not comfortable in the spotlight but he is VERY comfortable at the edge of the frame, being in service to others. I think I just wore him down. I wanted everyone ot pay a lot of attention to the man behind the curtain.
"I loved Shep before I began this film, and now having spent time listening to Shep and all his friends saying the nicest things about him, I love him even more."
Myers got many of those friends -- including Michael Douglas, Willie Nelson, Emeril Lagasse, Sylvester Stallone, sports figures and many more -- to chronicle Gordon's life both profession and personal. They speak freely about his drug use and taste for beautiful women, but also more meaningfully about his tremendous, open-door hospitality and kindness to others, including a former girlfriend's children he essentially adopted as his own family after her death. "Supermensch" also delves into Gordon's relationship with the Dali Lama and his conversion as a "JewBu" (a Jewish Buddhist).
"I didn't really get involved in (the film) at all," Gordon says. "I gave (Myers) access to my stuff, and I did interviews for him. I knew Mike loved me and had a deep understanding of who I was, so I felt like my only job was to give him answers that I didn't think about.
"When I saw it, I was a little embarrassed, and I was a little embarrassed by the name. But I've seen the effect i's had on people in the audience and reading some of the reviews and talking to people, and I could see Mike made a story that really touched people in different ways, and in some ways called to action to be better people.
"So I feel proud to be the guy he used as an example for that, and that's made the experience a little more palatable to me, I suppose."
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