From Alice to Oprah, Gor­don is a leg­endary show­biz men­sch

Shep Gor­don dis­cusses life with the stars — and the film about his man­age­rial ca­reer

The Jewish Chronicle - - LIFE - BY STEPHEN AP­PLE­BAUM

AS SHEP Gor­don was driv­ing to Oprah Win­frey’s house for din­ner last week, a thought struck him. “I went, ‘Oh my God, you’re this lit­tle Jewish kid from Long Is­land and you’re go­ing to have din­ner with Oprah Win­frey. How did this hap­pen?’” The an­swer is ex­plained in ac­tor Mike My­ers’s di­rec­to­rial de­but, Su­per­me­n­sch: The Leg­end of Shep Gor­don, an af­fec­tion­ate doc­u­men­tary chart­ing an ex­tra­or­di­nary life. As a man­ager, Gor­don, among many other things, helped to cre­ate Alice Cooper’s shock­ing im­age, res­cued Teddy Pen­der­grass from ex­ploita­tion and saved Grou­cho Marx from fi­nan­cial chaos.

The 67-year-old also pi­o­neered the celebrity-chef genre — tak­ing on tal­ented chefs as clients at a time when he felt they weren’t be­ing prop­erly re­mu­ner­ated and pro­mot­ing them like rock stars — and has him­self cooked for the Dalai Lama. He mar­ried, and di­vorced, a Play­boy cen­tre­fold, dated Sharon Stone, and has celebrity con­nec­tions that dwarf the game of Six De­grees of Kevin Ba­con.

My­ers claims that Gor­don is re­spon­si­ble for up to a quar­ter of the cul­ture he grew up with. Yet Gor­don is not a man to trum­pet his achieve­ments. Speak­ing from his home in Maui, he says he re­buffed over­tures from film-mak­ers for years — “I didn’t see any real value in telling the story other than ego” — and in­sists that the ti­tle is “a lit­tle far-reach­ing. I don’t stand on moun­tains about what I do. I just do it be­cause I want to do it. I’m not some­one who likes at­ten­tion. It just seemed The Leg­end of Shep Gor­don was a lit­tle heavy-handed. But it’s not my movie, it’s Mike My­ers’s movie. And when I saw it, fi­nally, I said: ‘Wow, what a beau­ti­ful love let­ter to me.’”

They met in 1991 when Alice Cooper ap­peared in Wayne’s World. My­ers then also bought a property in Maui, “so we’ve spent a lot of time to­gether over the last 15 years. I knew, of all the people that I had met along the way who were sto­ry­tellers, he was the one who ap­pre­ci­ated the sto­ries the most and I could feel his re­spect and his ad­mi­ra­tion. So, with him, I never felt I needed to even see the movie un­til it was done.”

Such was Gor­don’s faith in My­ers that he es­chewed the ad­vice he had al­ways given to artists about turn­ing re­porters’ ques­tions around to suit their own agenda. “I felt like my job was to an­swer his ques­tions be­fore I thought about them. I don’t think I would have said a lot of the things I said if I had put a beat or two in. But I think that’s re­ally what makes the movie work.”

Es­pe­cially “painful”, he re­flects, is the one line left in the film about his mother, whom he de­scribes as “cruel”. It was part of broader con­ver­sa­tion and, any­way, he doesn’t think his ex­pe­ri­ence was atyp­i­cal of the time.

“In first -gen­er­a­tion Jewish house­holds in Amer­ica, the way in which love was shown in many cases was very bizarre and didn’t quite come across as love. I’ve talked to my friends from sim­i­lar places and been get­ting letters and emails from people who saw the movie and there’s so many people in a sim­i­lar sit­u­a­tion. But I knew that my mum loved me. I just felt she couldn’t re­ally help her­self.” He al­ways knew that this ex­pe­ri­ence im­pacted on his “re­la­tion­ship with women and fam­ily” (he’s never had chil­dren of his own, de­spite a strong de­sire to). But he re­calls “wak­ing up fairly happy ev­ery day and go­ing to sleep fairly happy.” A lot of his friends spent “hours in psy­chother­apy, get­ting more neu­rotic and more bur­dened by their child­hood rather than re­leased by it. I never took that path.”

Gor­don found other ways. He took drugs, which “were def­i­nitely a part of es­capism. When I look back at it, I’d wake up in the morn­ing and just work till late at night — maybe that was a way to avoid the emo­tion- al is­sues. But my rhythm was one of work­ing harder than any­one. I still work re­ally hard. And it’s very pos­si­ble that that is a choice made to avoid per­sonal-re­la­tion­ship is­sues. I’m still pretty happy.”

His life isn’t what he imag­ined grow­ing up. Gor­don orig­i­nally in­tended to be a pro­ba­tion of­fi­cer. How­ever, when that ca­reer lasted just one day, he headed to Hol­ly­wood and checked into the Land­mark Mo­tel, a no­to­ri­ous hang­out for as­pir­ing mu­si­cians and artists. “I had no plan ex­cept des­per­a­tion. And the only thing I re­ally knew how to do was play poker and sell drugs. So find a poker game.” One day, Ja­nis Jo­plin in­tro­duced him to Jimi Hen­drix, who asked if he was Jewish. “I didn’t know whether to run or an­swer. It was still an era when an­tisemitism was not un­usual. So I took a few beats be­fore I an­swered that ques­tion.” When he told Hen­drix he was, the mu­si­cian told him he should be a man­ager and that there was an artist called Alice Cooper who needed one. “It was the luck­i­est day of my life telling him the truth,” Gor­don laughs. He be­lieves his up­bring­ing in a cul­tur­ally Jewish house­hold in­formed his meth­ods as a man­ager. He al­ways tried

to be fair, rather than ruth­less, mak­ing deals that were a “win-win” for ev­ery­one. “I put a lot of my com­pas­sion and abil­ity to do what I do down to my her­itage. It’s sort of my DNA — be kind to people. And I think it prob­a­bly also had some ef­fect on my al­ways pick­ing the un­der­dog. Whether it was black artists who were be­ing beaten up, or chefs who were be­ing beaten up, or Jews who were abused. I’m sure it had some in­flu­ence on those choices.”

Part of the ap­peal to Gor­don about work­ing with My­ers on the film were the ac­tor’s ideas about fame. My­ers terms it “the in­dus­trial toxic waste of cre­ativ­ity”. Gor­don has seen it de­stroy lives and around 10 years into his j o u r n e y h e k n e w c o u l d end in dis­as­ter? “No,” he says gravely. “It al­ways weighed heav­ily on me. I think it’s prob­a­bly why I re­tired.” In fact Gor­don i s only semi-re­tired. He still man­ages Alice Cooper and is busier than ever with other projects. “For the most part, I gave up mak­ing people fa­mous,” he sug­gests.

Al­though he ap­pears con­tent, there is an un­der­cur­rent of melan­choly run­ning through the film. But he ac­cepts that it is My­ers’s movie. “Mike had just had a child — his first child — and for him that’s the great­est thing that ever hap­pened in his life. He loves me. So I thank him for mak­ing this movie. He wanted to not only tell this story but also lead me when I watched it into a place of go­ing to have a child. Which may hap­pen, you never know.” Su­per­me­n­sch: The Leg­end of Shep Gor­don is re­leased to­day. Re­view, p34 ca­reer told po­ten­tial clients that if he did his job prop­erly, it would prob­a­bly kill them.

“By that time Hen­drix was dead. Jo­plin was dead. Mor­ri­son was dead. Alice was in re­hab. Ev­ery­body was so f****d up. It was be­com­ing the norm for acts not to show up. Can­cel shows. And then you’d see the artists that were still play­ing for $50 and car­ry­ing their own equip­ment and they were pretty happy.”

So did Gor­don be­come am­biva­lent about fa­cil­i­tat­ing a

Shep Gor­don with a youth­ful Alice Cooper and ( be­low) with the Dalai Lama

Shep Gor­don tak­ing a back seat and ( in­set) movie-maker Mike My­ers

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