Mike Myers doesn’t cite uber-manager Shep Gordon’s epic laugh as his primary reason for making his buoyant new documentary portrait “Supermensch: The Legend of Shep Gordon,” but it’s easy to assume it was a factor.
After all, what comic wouldn’t revel in Gordon’s distinctive chortle-meets-whinny-with-a-dash-of-old-fashioned-guffaw?
But Myers was after much bigger game here, and claims he spent “20 years begging Shep” to participate in a documentary which Myers says he always envisioned as “an entertaining cautionary tale” of a man who’s clearly a close friend of Myers as well as an important personal model. “He’s a first-class BuJew,” says Myers, helpfully explaining that’s his term for “Buddhist Jew,” because Gordon “combines the wisdom of Judaism and non-attachment of Buddhism. He’s in the jungle with a machete and he’s flying over the jungle in a helicopter at the same time.”
After debuting at the Toronto Intl. Film Festival in 2013 and playing to appreciative festival audiences around the world, the film was released theatrically this year by Radius and has found a modest fanbase among business students, music industry aficionados, spiritual seekers and others who have noticed that this isn’t your father’s entertainment business biography.
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Since rocketing to fame on “Saturday Night Live” 25 years ago, Myers’ comedic skills ignited hit films such as “Wayne’s World” and the “Austin Powers” franchise and his voice work propelled the “Shrek” films into global box office triumphs. Along the way he acquired an on-set rep that supporters might term “intense” and detractors deemed “difficult,” while also grappling with real-life issues such as the break-up of his first marriage and the loss of his father, just as his film career was beginning to skyrocket.
“My father died in 1991 and ‘Wayne’s World’ came out in 1992,” recalls Myers. “My dream was that someday my father might look at me the way he looked at Peter Sellers. But he got Alzheimer’s and went into a vegetative state and he never got to see the film. I took his passing very hard. I didn’t know anybody who died and certainly nobody I adored and worshipped like my dad.”
A burgeoning friendship with Gordon that had begun during the making of “Wayne’s World” with Gordon’s first and perhaps best-known client, Alice Cooper, led to a key moment in Myers’ life. “I thought I was over (the loss of his father) and I wasn’t, and a second wave of sadness hit me. That’s when I got the courage to call Shep and ask him if he was serious about inviting me to stay as his guest at his house in Maui. I planned to stay for two weeks and stayed for two months.”
What really distinguishes the film and raises it beyond a fascinating portrait of a colorful entertainment industry success story is Myers’ decision to intelligently and perceptively probe two darker aspects of the Gordon story.
Gordon is outspoken throughout the film about his views on fame, at one point noting that he’d never seen any positive results of fame — but lots of catastrophes — for the first two decades of his career.
“The truth is, leading a very public life can preclude intimacy,” says Myers, who also calls fame “the industrial disease of creativity. When Shep signs a client he says he always tells them ‘If I’m successful, it will probably kill you.’ And no one ever turns him down.”
The last section of the film is unsparing in analyzing the irony of such a beloved figure who is so enlightened and giving to others, yet has had no lasting relationship or ability to create the one thing he’s wanted most: a family.
Myers says this is hardly unrelated to the film’s examination of fame’s toll. “Shep is completely honest onscreen. I remember asking him at one point where he spoke so candidly about his life, ‘Do you want to dial that back?’ and he always said ‘No.’”
In Myers’ view, all the distance — remember that “helicopter over the jungle?” — couldn’t protect Gordon from the fallout from what Myers terms “the Chernobyl of fame.” Toward the end of the film, the point is driven home by Gordon’s close call with a life-threatening illness and the absence of family during those dark days.
“He’s also got the radiation poisoning. It’s caused reproductive harm. He’s at the point where he’s literally dead and the only person at his side is his paid assistant.”
As is fitting with someone Myers describes as “half showman and half shaman,” the Gordon story doesn’t end there, and one leaves the film feeling that the Myers story will also continue far beyond any “Wayne” or “Austin Powers” or “Shrek” sequels. “Ultimately,” Myers admits, “anything an artist does is autobiographical because it’s simply an expression of what’s on your mind.”