Ever wonder what Alice Cooper’s best friend is like?
According to Mike Myers‘ new documentary — yes, that Mike Myers — he’s a former parole officer and folk-music aficionado (he never cared for Cooper’s music) who once got punched in the face by Janis Joplin, shared joint custody of a cat with Cary Grant, and made yak tea for the Dalai Lama (His Holiness refused to partake).
Myers makes his directorial debut, and reveals that his fondness for the ’70s goes beyond Austin Powers’ velvet suit and ruffled blouse, with “Supermensch: The Legend of Shep Gordon,” a thoroughly entertaining and fascinating look at the life and career of a publicity virtuoso.
Though visually unimpressive, Myers’ film is surprisingly rich and expansive in its ideas. The semi-retired Gordon frankly gabs about how to create stars and sell tickets, the unimportant disconnect between a performer’s edgy reputation and tame music, the too-intimate tie between fame and mortality, the perils of near-lifelong bachelorhood (and the joys of rock-star promiscuity), the nature of karma, and what it’s like to be constantly “living other people’s lives.”
Now resembling a retired professional golfer, Gordon spins several yarns in his therapeutic baritone, and it’s clear that he’s related many of them before, either to impress or to amuse. But he’s a great storyteller, and given how often the rich and powerful tend to party with one another, Gordon doesn’t skimp on the name-dropping.
The talent manager never got to “save the world” like his college self intended, but he did become very good at affording a few talented people the opportunity to buy their own doubloon-filled Scrooge McDuck vault.
By the time a 21-year-old Gordon met Vincent Furnier, the rocker was already going by Alice Cooper but had run out of shock tactics after taking on a girl’s name. Gordon, who had decided to become a talent manager just a few days earlier, made his first client an international star through a series of ingenious marketing stunts, including the infamous “chicken incident” at a Toronto concert. The press reported, to Gordon’s delight, that Cooper bit off a chicken’s head and drank its blood on stage. Gordon’s version of the event is somehow gorier, while also funnier.
Gordon’s “origin story” as a talent-managing prodigy certainly comprises the film’s most interesting segments. Less remarkable are the many famous talking heads who show up to pay their respects and to ensure that the narrative of “Supermensch” lives up to its title. The interviews with Michael Douglas, Willie Nelson, and especially Tom Arnold feel superfluous, though there’s a small joy in watching Sylvester Stallone casually throw around words like “gourmand” and “accoutrement.”
The narrative of “Supermensch” slows down and gets scattered when its subject’s life does. Following a mid-life crisis that finds him resettling in Maui, Gordon dabbles in fine dining, film production, Buddhism, and monogamy. The tension between Myers’ efforts to pay tribute to his friend and to give his documentary subject a universally relatable “one regret in life” further renders his portrayal inconsistent and his biases more glaring.
In the documentary’s most awkward moment, Gordon seems to attribute Teddy Pendergrass’ catastrophic car accident at the age of 31, which left the R&B crooner a paraplegic, to karma; the singer had refused to perform at a sold-out concert some months earlier. It also doesn’t help that Myers responds to Gordon’s long sexual history with a virtual high-five, lending the film a probably unintended bro-ish vibe that left me wanting a shower.
But I guess that was showbiz in the ’70s. (And today). Gordon apparently never craved celebrity for himself, declaring, “There’s nothing about fame that I’ve ever seen that’s healthy. It’s something that’s very hard to survive and has no intrinsic value onto itself.” But “Supermensch” certainly gives due credit to a remarkable businessman and tastemaker who gave many people that notoriety they clearly wanted, whether it was good for them or not.