Toward the end of his documentary “Supermensch,” actor-turned-filmmaker Mike Myers notes, “Shep Gordon is the nicest person I’ve ever met, hands down” — a slightly redundant declaration by that point, given the largely worshipful tenor of this cinematic love letter to a man who, though now semi-retired, remains one of the most well-liked, well-connected talent managers in the industry. A breezy celebration of the Hollywood high life somewhat jarringly bookended by moments of sobering introspection, this glibly entertaining, surface-skimming portrait draws heavily on conversations with Gordon and his starry but far-from-exclusive roster of clients and friends (Alice Cooper, Michael Douglas, Emeril Lagasse, the Dalai Lama, etc.), all of whom swear that the guy’s heart is as big as his beachfront Maui mansion. It’s an affectionate, sometimes downright slobbery career salute with a soft, unexamined center — a moving experience for all involved, no doubt, but one of limited interest outside the celebrity bubble it depicts.
Myers’ choice of subject for his first feature (co-directed with producer Beth Aala) stems from a period when the actor, finding himself at a personal low point, spent two months being nursed back to health by Gordon at his Hawaii digs. It’s an experience shared by many of those interviewed here, who describe their friend in phrases such as “the most wholesome person I’ve ever known” and “a protector” — a generous, gregarious, gold-hearted, deep-pocketed soul who excels at not just managing but also taking care of those in his unusually large inner circle. Stories about Gordon’s casually star-studded dinner parties are legion; celeb after celeb testifies to his ability to bring people together and forge new relationships — particularly with the ladies, his inexhaustible libido being one of several personality traits that come in for some good-natured ribbing.
Employing a brisk mix of talking heads, zippy music, illustrative movie clips and brief, comic re-enactments altered to look as if they were shot in the ’60s, “Supermensch” begins with an acid-drenched flashback to that crazy decade, when Gordon, a Long Island-raised kid with a vague interest in becoming a probation officer, instead found himself hanging out with the likes of Janis Joplin, Jimi Hendrix and Jim Morrison in Los Angeles. While his early association with those ill-fated music icons helped fuel his later skepticism about the fame game, it was also during this time that he forged his most enduring relationship, with the heavy-metal artist who would later go by the solo moniker of Alice Cooper. Gordon helped turn Cooper into an international sensation, often with the aid of lubricious publicity stunts (i.e. wrapping panties around copies of his 1972 album “School’s Out”) that established the manager’s resourceful, sometimes scandal-seeking m.o.
Gordon found himself uniquely suited to shepherding (ahem) the personal and professional affairs of celebrities, a job that tapped into his deep love and knowledge of people, his eclectic taste in the arts and his eye for fresh career-making opportunities in unlikely places. Canadian songstress Anne Murray credits her success to an early photo op orchestrated by Gordon, who responded to her soulful output far more than he did to some of the other, more popular acts he was managing at the time. Filmmaker Carolyn Pfeiffer proudly singles out Gordon for making her, at one point, the only woman with the power to greenlight a Hollywood picture; under their Alive Films banner, they produced and/or released such offbeat successes as “Koyaanisqatsi,” “El Norte” and “Kiss of the Spider Woman.” And considerable screentime is devoted to the rise of the celebrity chef, a phenomenon that Gordon spearheaded in the pre-Food Network era, largely due to his friendships with people like Michelin three-star chef Roger Verge and Wolfgang Puck.
Everyone here has an anecdote to share about Shep Gordon, often involving some ingenious pulling of strings, as if he were some sort of benevolent Don Corleone. (Tom Arnold describes how Gordon once managed to get a paparazzo off his back in the friendliest, most mutually beneficial way imaginable.) But Gordon himself is no slouch in the storytelling department; he’s an irrepressible raconteur who barely lets a frame go by without dropping some lewd detail or letting loose his signature annoying chuckle. On a more bittersweet note, he fondly recalls his time managing Teddy Pendergrass, from their first carefree, substance-abusing days together, to the tragic 1982 car accident that left the singer paralyzed from the chest down, to his tentative career rehabilitation afterward. And while Gordon’s passionate but usually short-lived romances are glossed over (including his relationship with Sharon Stone, who introduced him to the Dalai Lama), his untold kindness to the family of his ex, Winona Williams, effectively adopting her grandchildren as his own, can’t help but strike an emotional chord.
That selfless act, more than any other, lends credence to the rare soul-searching moment when Gordon — who has known much joy and pleasure, but also seen no shortage of tragedy — announces that “fame has no intrinsic value unto itself.” It’s a critical insight that one wishes had surfaced a bit earlier and more often in a film that, with its air of self-promotion and leering, what-me-worry attitude, may well have benefited from just a bit more distance from its subject.