‘This guy’s cool’ … Shep Gordon in Supermensch.
Dressed in short sleeves and tie, with his hair perfectly combed, Mike Myers is looking like an eager school prefect. Beside him, in this hotel suite in downtown Manhattan, is a tall and tanned man called Shep Gordon, relaxed to the point of beatific in a loose Hawaiian shirt, very much the cool older kid about to grant an acolyte a ride on his motorbike. Which, in a way, he’s just done: Gordon is a music industry legend, a manager whose clients have included Alice Cooper, Blondie, Teddy Pendergrass and Luther Vandross, and who is friends with just about every celebrity you can name. He’s also the subject of Myers’ directorial debut, Supermensch, a love letter of a documentary peopled by absurdly famous talking heads attesting to Gordon’s supreme menschdom.
Gordon’s career began when he rocked up to a Los Angeles motel in 1965 and got punched in the eye by Janis Joplin. He had thought she was being raped and had intervened. In fact, it was a wholly consensual tryst and her paramour, one Jimi Hendrix, struck up a conversation by asking Gordon if he was Jewish. He replied in the affirmative. Hendrix’s next question: did he want to be a manager? Gordon once again said yes and promptly found himself tasked with steering a young Alice Cooper to infamy. When a chicken was thrown off-stage and dismembered by crazed fans at one notorious early concert, it was Gordon – the ever-gentle "Jew-Bhu" (a Jew who practises Buddhism) – who had thought to bring the ill-fated bird along, to see what Cooper would do with it.
The chicken story is just one in a legion of outrageous and riotous anecdotes from a man whose capacity for sex and drugs and rock’n’roll seems matched only by his capacity for kindness. How did the two meet?
Mike Myers: We met on the set of Wayne’s World in 1991. I’d written Alice Cooper into the movie two weeks before we were about to start shooting. I’d never been in a movie and was told: there’s a problem with Alice Cooper; you have to meet his manager. I was like, ugh, who is this dude, what does he want, why am I meeting him? It seemed all very Spinal Tap, you know? And he came in and he’s got a ponytail and he’s wearing a satin jacket.
Shep Gordon: [chuckling] Yeah, a black satin tour jacket.
‘A capacity for kindness’ … Shep Gordon meets the Dalai Lama.
MM: And then he said [doing an impeccable impression of Gordon], "I understand that you want, uh, Eighteen and School’s Out in the movie. How ’bout something from the new album?" And I was like, "How ’bout no?" And he said, "Well, I read the script. Alice is onstage for only eight seconds. If you put School’s Out in the end credits, people are going to think that’s the song he sang on stage." And he goes, "I also happen to know you start shooting in two weeks and you don’t have a choice."
SG: [chuckling] Yeah, I knew the schedule.
MM: Wasn’t his first day! Was my first day, clearly. And he was so nice about it! Not confrontational, not heavy, but he had all the leverage in the world. And I said, "This guy’s cool. Then I went to Hawaii for the first time. Wayne’s World had come out and my life had just exploded. I had a fake name at the hotel and the only person who could get through was my brother Paul. So one day the phone rang and I picked it up and said, "Hey, dude, how’s it going?" And it’s Shep. I said, "How did you get through?" He says, "It’s Hawaii."
SG: No secrets.
MM: No secrets for him because he’s the king of Hawaii [Gordon has lived on Maui for years]. And so he said, "Do you want to come to a luau with Sylvester Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger and Whoopi Goldberg?" I’d met very famous people but only one at a time – I’d never been in a room full of thousands of the most famous people in the world! What struck me more than anything was this egalitarian vibe of loveliness: his house was a real sanctuary. My dad had passed away and when I got a second wave of grief, I said, "Look, do you think I could take you up on that offer to stay?" I was supposed to stay there a weekend and ended up staying two months. He literally cooked breakfast, lunch, dinner every day.
SG: I like to cook.
‘He has an egalitarian vibe of loveliness’ … Mike Myers (left) on Shep Gordon. Photograph: Brent Perniac/AdMedia/SIPA/Rex
MM: He’s a fantastic cook. And during that time, I just asked him questions about show business and realised that he knew everybody. First one I said was Peter Sellers. And I was like, "Oh my God, you knew Peter Sellers. That’s fantastic." Chaplin? Wow. Fantastic. And then I thought, "I’ve got him stumped: Groucho [Marx]?" He goes, "I manage Groucho." And then he told me the whole Groucho story: how Alice Cooper used to get in bed with Groucho every day and they’d watch TV together.
SG: Great piece of Alice-Groucho trivia.
SG: Groucho was redecorating his house; he had a round bed. He called, wanting to get rid of the bed, and Alice said, "Wait a second, I was just at Paul McCartney’s place and he has a rotunda bedroom – let’s send him the bed!" So Groucho writes a note that says, "Dear Paul, hope you have better luck on this than I did." [laughs] Alice, last year, did a TV show in London with Sir Paul and Sir Paul came right over in the middle of Alice’s interview and said, "I still have the bed!"
MM: That is crazy. I have not heard this story. This is the 11th new story today. He is one of the most loved, if not the most loved person in show business I’ve ever met. It’s been 20 years of me hounding him to make this movie.
Hermione Hoby: Why did it take so long?
SG: Fame is something that I think is very scary. There’s no intrinsic value to it, so there was no reason other than ego for me to jump into that river. And ego is something I’ve always tried to keep out of my life as much as possible. Then I had a very trite moment of looking at my calendar and realising I wasn’t getting invited to celebrity golf tournaments.
HH: I never knew that was a thing!
SG: Big thing. Giant thing. And really fun for me.
MM: Because people take care of him, he’s used to taking care of other people.
SG: Great people, great courses. I go a lot with Alice. And I would go with Michael Douglas until he got remarried to Catherine, who’s a great golfer. I was always a plus one, and those people either got in relationships or died or something. So I called up Mike and I said, "You know that movie? You know, I’m feeling a little sorry for myself. I’m not getting invited to these tournaments. Maybe it’s time to do it."
HH: Watching the film feels a bit like being at a really celebratory funeral.
SG: Exactly. When I do questions and answers, often the first thing I’ll do is get up and say, "It’s so amazing to be alive at your own eulogy." First time I saw it on a big screen in Toronto, I turned to Mike and said, "You gotta introduce me to this guy in the movie." But embarrassment was really my first emotion. And then it hit me how deeply affected people had been and my embarrassment went away. I became really proud to be the centrepiece of it.
HH: Most importantly, how are the golfing invitations?
SG: I got two last week.
MM: Mission accomplished.Tags: concert, director, film, movie, music, tour, tv