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Thursday, November 27, 2014         

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Talent agent helped stars burn bright

By Jessica Zack

San Francisco Chronicle

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Mike Myers spent 20 years trying to persuade his friend, talent manager Shep Gordon, to let him make a movie about Gordon's storied and star-studded life and career.

Myers and Gordon met in 1991 during the filming of "Wayne's World," in which Gordon's longtime client Alice Cooper was featured in the famous "We're not worthy" scene.

"Mike and I became great friends after that, and he loved hearing all my stories," says Gordon, who lives on Maui and is known not only for his entertainment industry success, but also for being the hub of an exceptionally well-connected social circle. "He said they're the stories of our time, and we've got to get them on film. But I always said no because I didn't want to flirt with fame."

He should know.

As the consummate Hollywood insider for more than 40 years, Gordon, 68, made a killing as the man responsible for turning his unknown clients — musicians and actors, as well as chefs — into A-list icons.

"If I had any special gift, it was to make someone's second name unimportant so nobody would say, ‘Alice who?' ‘Raquel who?' or ‘Emeril who?'" Gordon said in an interview before a screening of "Supermensch: The Legend of Shep Gordon," Myers' directorial debut, at the San Francisco International Film Festival. (The documentary also screened at this month's Maui Film Festival and has a tentative Hawaii release date of July 2 at Kahala 8.)

Yet the irony at the heart of the entertaining documentary is that Gordon spent his professional life making other people celebrities, only to realize along the way that fame is a potent, high-inducing toxin.

"I haven't seen much about fame that I like," he says. "In my career I put fame above all else, but everyone I know was damaged by it."

"Supermensch" is equal parts hagiographic portrait by an admiring friend (Gordon calls the film "a love letter from Mike") and revealing examination of the personal trade-offs in a colorful life exceedingly well lived.

His iconoclastic story is told through archival footage as well as interviews with Gordon's closest friends, including Michael Doug­las, Sylvester Stallone, Willie Nelson and Tom Arnold.

Dating Sharon Stone, marrying (briefly) a Playboy Playmate he met at Hugh Hefner's mansion and partying with Jim Morrison would have been unthinkable to the young Gordon growing up "a loner and the family's ugly duckling" on suburban Long Island.

After a stint working for his cousin selling funeral clothing ("dresses and suits with no backs"), Gordon set out in 1967 for Los Angeles, where a friend was a TV producer.

"I spent a couple nights in San Francisco at a commune near the Fillmore, then hitchhiked down the freeway," he recalls. "I was taking acid every single day back then, and dealing it, too."

In person, as in the film, Gordon is thoughtful and wide open about his past drug use and also contemplative about the toll the so-called "high life" can take on one's physical and spiritual health.

As recounted in "Supermensch," Gordon lasted one day as a juvenile probation officer and landed at Hollywood's Landmark Hotel, where Jimi Hendrix and Janis Joplin were hanging out.

"Hendrix asked me by the pool, "Are you Jewish? You should be a manager."

And so began Gordon's long ride in the fast lane.

He realized that managing rock bands gave him legitimacy ("if the cops asked me how I got this watch"), not to mention access to the rock stars' female groupies.

Cooper was Gordon's first client and became a lifelong friend. Gordon devised the Prince of Darkness act under the premise that "if you can get parents to hate you, the kids will love you."

Gordon conceived publicity stunts such as packaging one of Cooper's albums in women's panties, and he threw the live chicken onstage that was infamously dismembered at a concert in Toronto.

Asked where this showman's instinct comes from, Gordon says, "It's not cunning, and I wasn't even all that confident. I'm a loner by nature, and I've always spent a lot of time zoning out by myself until some visualization comes to me.

"Like with Teddy Pendergrass. He was the sexiest man around, so I thought, how do we show that to the world? Well, what about a concert where 15,000 women are throwing panties at him? Then I thought they could be licking lollipops. That's perfect. So I got teddy bear lollipops."

Gordon says the secret to his success, if there is one, "has been to just always be open to opportunity. I've never had a plan. I didn't even know anything about music. Everything in my life has just been, wake up, go through the day, and if I bump into something that's exciting, I'll do it."

In the mid-'70s, at the height of his company Alive Enterprises' success, Gordon became "fed up with L.A.'s culture of what you are, not who you are" and moved to Hawaii.

The film has numerous shots of Gordon's popular dinners and the stream of famous houseguests at his Wai­lea home. The party didn't stop; it just came to him.

"If the walls could talk in his house in Maui, they would never shut up," former client Sammy Hagar says.

Myers' direction spotlights the meaningful contradictions in Gordon's life: the ultimate hedonist who becomes a follower of Tibetan Buddhism; the capitalist manager who would "always, always, always get the money" but is known in the industry for his altruism and "compassionate business practices."

Gordon's story — particularly the fact that the celebrity chef phenomenon is largely his invention — has caught the attention of Anthony Bourdain, whose Ecco books imprint will publish his memoir.

Myers recently told The New York Times that he kept beseeching Gordon to make the film because "in all his stories, it occurred to me that fame is the industrial disease of creativity."

Gordon says he hopes people see "Supermensch" as a cautionary tale about "seeking fame for fame's sake. We've got to stop this train wreck we're on, where kids set their sights on ‘Dancing With the Stars.' When I was growing up, you became famous because you were so great at your craft. Then people wanted to be around you because you'd done such great, interesting work."






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