Shep Gordon: Supermensch
Legendary talent manager and UB alum shows film documenting his life
When Alice Cooper notoriously threw a live chicken into the audience at the Toronto Rock ‘n’ Roll Revival Festival in 1969, Shep Gordon was the one who provided the chicken.
The audience tore the chicken to shreds, bloodying a small portion of the crowd before they threw the carcass back on stage. This was one of the first outrageous incidents that shot Cooper to stardom – a stardom that might not have been possible without his manager of more than 43 years, Supermensch Shep Gordon.
Sex, drugs and rock’n’roll are three things Gordon, a UB alum, didn’t shy away from for most of his career – which started in 1968 when Janis Joplin punched him in the face outside of the Landmark Motel in Hollywood.
Gordon thought someone was being raped and Joplin punched him in the midst of intercourse with legendary guitarist Jimi Hendrix. He didn’t know who they were until the next morning.
“They made it sound worse than it was … It was the start of my life; the start of my journey,” Gordon said in an interview with The Spectrum. “If that wouldn’t have happened, I never would have wound up with Alice.”
The many stories and escapades of Gordon’s life are the surface-level subject of a documentary, Supermensch: The Legend of Shep Gordon. Directed by Mike Myers – of Austin Powers and Waynes World fame – the film is more a testament to the beloved manager, agent and producer’s infallible character than it is the story of his seemingly outrageous lifestyle.
The film was screened Thursday afternoon in the Student Union Theater along with the three winning videos of a student film contest. A question and answer session with Gordon followed the screening.
Gordon was always the man behind the scenes, helping the talent he managed and people he met rise to fame, often times through outlandish and “radical” stunts like Teddy Pendergrass’ women only concerts or a failed attempt to shoot Cooper out of a cannon.
“He’s the most famous non-famous person in Hollywood,” said Eric Beback, a senior marketing major.
Bryan Murphy, a junior media studies major, who won first place in the film contest for his film, : A Love Story, agreed with Beback.
“It’s like an indirect star struck,” Murphy said after meeting Gordon. “He’s the guy behind the scenes. He’s the one who made it all happen, while everyone else is up front.”
Beneath all the escapades, the stories of hanging out in the Playboy mansion or the outlandish stunts Gordon helped to pull off to launch his clients to fame, the film highlights Gordon’s character as a man of immense honesty, integrity and friendliness – the Yiddish word mensch. It’s is full of testimonials from Cooper, Mike Myers, Sylvester Stallone, Steven Tyler, Emeril Lagasse and many others.
Myers described Gordon as “the nicest guy he has ever met, hands down.”
Gordon ties much of his success in life to his time at UB. He graduated in 1968 with a Bachelor’s in political science before heading to Hollywood.
Within 24 hours of getting there, he befriended Jimmy Hendrix and Janis Joplin, and began his career as a “manager,” which was initially a front for the money he was making selling drugs.
“I always felt like [coming to Buffalo] was the start of my life,” Gordon said. “Coming to Buffalo was the start of my journey. It gave me the freedom to be unstructured … to win or lose on your own terms … It trained me on how to live.”
UB helped teach him the importance of equality and accepting every opportunity that came his way. He lived the life of “animal house before Animal House.” He loved the freedom school offered him in “a time without consequences.”
Gordon remembers taking three different classes called, “Something, Nothing and Anything.” Something required him to bring a record to class, Nothing required no supplies or effort – students did nothing in class – and Anything required bringing more than one record.
It was at UB that Gordon realized he could “write history and didn’t have to wait for it” – something he says he has done for most of his life.
During the Q&A Gordon told a story about how he and his friends invented a fake head of an oil-rich African country, named after the sex organ of a fern. His friend went to the United Nations in New York City and telegrammed The Buffalo Evening News and mayor’s office that the city would be the first to be visited by the head of the oil-rich country because Buffalo had just opened an international airport. The letter asked if they would make an official state visit. The next morning, the story was the on the front page of the paper, he said.
His friend flew to Buffalo with a pillowcase and sheet draped around him as a turban. Gordon and his friends called various places complaining that the city was allowing an “anti-Semitic” figurehead to come here.
When Gordon and his friends arrived at the airport, there were a thousand of protestors who rushed the plane to get rid of the fake anti-Semitic leader of a fake oil-rich African nation.
The story caused quite the scandal, but it was the first time that he unconsciously realized he could make history and didn’t have to wait for it.
“If you watch the movie that has become my career,” Gordon said. “It’s creating history, making events that become historical, but manufacturing them to a point … it’s one of the few stories I can tell that’s legal.”
Even after years of being surrounded by celebrities, Gordon describes his time at UB as the best days of his life. He relishes a time when he was able to make honest friendships.
“You’re all lucky to have that ahead of you; to make relationships that will last your whole life that are out of friendship and not need,” Gordon said to the audience during the Q&A.
Murphy was among the many audience members that found his honesty revealing of his true character.
“He’s willing to open up to you and tell you stuff you can’t imagine someone wanting to tell you,” Murphy said. “That just shows his true character and his honesty”
The student filmmaker was also impressed that Gordon was able to remain true to himself and his character after being surrounded by the rich and famous for much of his life. He was particularly inspired by Gordon’s remarks on fighting past rejection.
“Each rejection is one rejection closer to acceptance,” Gordon said. Gordon said he has seen people fight through rejection for years before seeing their projects get green lit.
Murphy said having someone like Gordon make an impact on his life as a student decades after Gordon left campus is an incentive to give back to UB once he and others find success of their own.
Through Supermensch: The Legend of Shep Gordon audience members were allowed to see the alum’s life of dancing around the spotlight of fame and finding success through putting others in it. His honesty, integrity and willingness to help others may have left audience members feeling like we could all be supermensches.
We just have to write our own history.