Mr. Nice Guy: Revisiting “Supermensch: The Legend of Shep Gordon”

By on March 14, 2015

Sometimes the really great documentary films just don’t get the distribution they deserve, and so we thought we’d bring one to your attention, in case it slipped between the cracks somehow: Supermensch: The Legend of Shep Gordon.

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Perhaps you saw actor-director Mike Myers on the talk-show circuit a few years ago, making the rounds to talk about this documentary he’d directed about his talent agent, his first, by the way — and truly the words “labor of love” could and should be applied here, as it was evident that us that Myers, like just about everyone who ever met him, truly loves this man — and and perhaps you thought to yourself, That looks pretty good, I have to make a point of seeing that.

We’re here to remind you today that Supermensch is worth your time, so seek it out. The Dalia Lama would give you the very same advice, trust us.

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And who exactly is Shep Gordon?

He’s a lot of things, a complex man with an incredible CV, of course, but mainly, he’s not just a mensch — which is Yiddish for a man of intergrity, doncha know — but Shep Gordon is more than that… he’s, in Myers own words, a supermensch, and he just might be the most likeable person you’re going to see on a TV screen (or whatever kind of screen you watch this doc on).

Seriously, he’s Mr. Nice Guy.

Along the way, with illustrative movie clips and brief, comic re-enactments altered to look as if they were shot in the acid-drenched ’60s — we came to love this guy too, and then we were reminded, watching the doc again recently, that maybe when his story moved on from his early management daze, after he’d learned the ropes of what it meant to manage acts like Alice Cooper (the band, and later the artist) to working with other clients, that we might lose interest — the first reel is such great fun, you see, particularly if you’re a fan of 60s and 70s rock acts and their exploits — but nope, even as the movie moved chronologically into the 80s and beyond, it just keeps drawing you in, deeper and deeper, one anecdote right after another.

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As with most documentaries that start at the chronological origins of the subject at hand, we learn first about Shep Gordon’s Long Island upbringing, and then eventually his interest in working at a prison, or becoming a probation officer. None of that really makes sense, of course, but that’s how the tale is told.

Soon enough, Gordon ends up where so many of us end up, in Los Angeles. The year? 1968.

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There’s a great story that takes place here, one that’s oft-repeated now, about how less than 24 hours after getting a room at the Landmark hotel, where a lot of the Hollywood rock denizen are also living in residence, Gordon takes a little acid, and one presumes he is enjoying a nice little trip whilst laying in his hotel bed, and he’s probably listening to some of his favorite music, when suddenly — he hears a woman screaming. The way he tells it — and the way its re-created for us — it feels like it’s happening in the middle of the night, and you can just imagine how the voices are echoing off the walls down by the pool. Gordon reacts quickly, thinking she is being attacked, maybe even raped, and time is of the essence, and so he descends the stairs two-at-a-time (okay, we imagined that, we have a vivid imagination) and he rushes over to where he sees a black guy, and a white girl, and in the darkness it seems like they’re struggling. There’s a ripping sound, clothes are coming off… only, it turns out, they’re not fighting, they’re fucking.

And get this: it’s Janis Joplin and Jimi Hendrix. Joplin is upset at Gordon for interrupting and she punches him square in the face. But soon, all is forgotten, forgiven, and laughed about, and he and Hendrix and Janis are all hanging out in his room, smoking Gordon’s weed (he says he dealt a little on the side) when they begin talking about their plans, and that’s when Hendrix gives Gordon the idea to go into talent management.


(Watch an excerpt here!)

Gordon quickly learns the three most important things about being a band manager: “Get the money, always remember to get the money, never forget to always remember to get the money.”

His first big act, it turns out (if you don’t count the nine days he managed Pink Floyd, that is) is working with none other than Alice Cooper, who Gordon helps to become the proverbial “overnight sensation,” even though Cooper’s arcing artistic trajectory — from Arizona to L.A., through band lineup and name changes along the way — was meteoric, and notable, often for some of the lubricious publicity stunts that Gordon himself came up with (i.e. wrapping panties around copies of his 1972 album School’s Out) which got people talkin’ about Alice.

My beautiful picture

He not only managed Alice Cooper (who admittedly is featured here very prominently, they even appear to be best friends, but this is a guy who seems like he might have dozens of BFFs), he also managed Blondie, Teddy Pendergrass, Luther Vandross and he briefly managed George Clinton. He’s often credited with the more recent “celebrity chef” phenomenon, which we guess is going back a few decades now, with such clients as Roger Vergé, Alice Waters, Wolfgang Puck, Emeril Lagasse and Paul Prudhomme.

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Mike Myers’ ability to capture Shep’s colorful essence on screen is reinforced with interviews from his famous friends, including the aforementioned Alice, but also familiar faces like Michael Douglas, Sylvester Stallone, Willie Nelson, Anne Murray, Raquel Welch, Frankie Valli, Chef Emeril Lagasse and so many more, and even the elderly Groucho Marx. And every one of them have nothing but nice things to say about Mr. Nice Guy.

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Speaking of Anne Murray, his story about working with her, and trying to get her an appearance on TV’s “Midnight Special,” is one of the movie’s best moments.

Mike Myers and Gordon both talked about it awhile back when they were doing tag-team interviews. Here’s one with NPR:


(Watch the excerpt here!)

MM: Shep’s theory is this idea of guilt by association. Shep said, “How I can help Anne Murray is get her on the [late-night TV show] Midnight Special — how I can get her on the Midnight Special is get her photographed with someone like John Lennon.”

He begged, borrowed, [stole], got them to the Troubadour [a West Hollywood venue], they took a picture, the picture went around the world, she got booked to the Midnight Special, and she crossed over and she was in Rolling Stone and … as Shep says, “Sales went off the roof.” He means “through the roof.” That’s a Shep-ism.

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SG: One of the dangers that I talk about is that fame now has become fame for fame’s sake. … But when I was doing it, it was really to put a spotlight on someone with true, real talent. I’m sure John Lennon was in pictures with a lot of people. Anne Murray deserved the spotlight. I knew that if I could get a spotlight on her, if they heard her on Midnight Special, she was the real deal. I never tried to fool the public. For me, I kept a sense of integrity. I wouldn’t take somebody who I didn’t think had talent. It’s really just a jump-start. Annie built a career … and it has been an amazing 35-year career. I look at [it] more as a spotlight, then I do as a trick.

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There’s another great story about how Shep Gordon’s cat once went missing — he had given it the name The Sensitive One, which tells you as much about Gordon as it does about his cat – and the story leads to a great resolution between two parties, something a manager has to be very good at, and Shep Gordon, it seems, is one of the best.

The story begins with Gordon talking about living in a home in Los Angeles, which had been recently vacated by his friend Alice, who had moved back to Phoenix. Gordon bought the home and learned that his next door neighbor was, as it turned out, screen legend Cary Grant.

Gordon missed his cat so he put up “missing cat” posters on the lamposts, but then he got busy with work.

One day, he says, “I got a phone call from Cary Grant’s housekeeper telling me they’d found the cat.”

Gordon continues: “But after that they didn’t return my calls for a couple of weeks so finally I thought I’d go to the house. I rang the doorbell and when the door opened on a fur carpet with these two silver bowls were Cary Grant and my cat.

“I could see the cat looking at me going, ‘Don’t blow this for me please.’

So we ended up with joint custody but I only took the cat back once after that.

Cary Grant later gave this amazing interview to Parade magazine where he said the cat saved his life. It brought him back to wanting to live. He was about 70 at the time and I never saw him again after that.”

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The stories in Supermensch are all like that, heart-warming, life-affirming, just real “nice guy” stories.

We’ve included a few clips and photos here to whet your appetite for more, leaving out perhaps the most important part of Shep Gordon’s story, how he became a practicing Buddhist and converted foodie, even serving dinner to the Dalai Lama, who also becomes a friend, as well as a spiritual force in Gordon’s life.

We get to see great footage of his Maui home’s kitchen, which becomes a kind of refuge for stars seeking asylum, including the career-slumping Myers.

You’ll see he’s a man with a huge heart, you see, which you should know by now, after all we’ve been telling you, and you really should watch the movie from the start to let it seep into the folds of your brain, those endorphins are really a kick.

Honestly, we don’t often get to see movies about the good guys like Shep, Mr. Nice Guy, but kudos to Mike Myers for bringing him to our attention. It’s curious to think that Myers would take time out from his own career to make a documentary about his own manager, but when Gordon was asked the very same thing, he said this: “I think this was, on paper, a very poor career move! I’m sure his agent fought him.”

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Shep Gordon at Canter’s Deli in Los Angeles

About Bryan Thomas

Bryan Thomas has been a freelancing writer/critic for All Music Guide, and a contributor to Launch, Music Connection, Big Takeover and numerous other publications and entertainment websites, blogs and zines, most of them long gone. He's written more than sixty sets of liner notes. He’s also worked for over twenty years at mostly reissue record labels -- prior to that he worked in bookstores and record stores, going all the way back to the original vinyl daze. He lives in the Miracle Mile neighborhood of Los Angeles, CA.
  • Bella Sarah

    I’m so glad that I finally found out about this movie. I heard Shep Gordon in an AoC podcast recently and I just had to see it after. It’s a great documentaries filled with incredible stories.

  • LoveMyCountry

    This documentary is awesome, well made from the heart about a great soul. Such amazing incredible stories…
    I had the blessing of meeting him briefly, while working rehearsals with Alice in the 80’s. He was a powerful man amongst the chaos of Alice’s crew. Fun great memories. RIP — Shep.

  • Tracy Phillips

    Heard Shep on Marc Maron’s podcast WTF, it was great. Definitely going to watch this.