If the mythologizing title of Mike Myers’s documentary tribute to talent manager Shep Gordon wasn’t enough to clue you in to its hagiographic agenda, the filmmaker himself takes pains to explain it to audiences on screen. Toward the end of Supermensch: The Legend of Shep Gordon, he says, “Shep is the nicest person I’ve ever met, hands down,” a quality to which he can personally attest, as Shep offered him a place to stay in his Hawaii home at an especially dire time in his life. That’s not the only act of kindness recounted by Gordon’s friends throughout this glorified act of hero worship, and as such one is hard-pressed to form any conclusion other than an infinitely positive one about the man.
Gordon himself, however, doesn’t think of himself as a hero. He exudes a humble demeanor even as he offers anecdotes about dealing with personalities as wildly varied as Alice Cooper, Anne Murray, Teddy Pendergrass, Roger Vergé, and Sharon Stone. Stone, incidentally, stands out among the many women Gordon has bedded over the years as the one who introduced him to Buddhism, the tenets of which, he says, have governed the way he’s lived his life—especially when it comes to karma. Even at the pinnacle of his wheeling and dealing, he prided himself in “treating celebrities as human beings.” This sense of compassion appears to have paid off, judging by the many stars who appear in Supermensch and the glowing testimonies they offer.
Yet, even as he made friends with seemingly every famous person he came into contact with, Gordon admits to finding the celebrity life soulless and empty. This, he explains, is why he decided to branch out into areas beyond the music industry, such as film production and cooking. Even in those areas, though, the film argues that he couldn’t help but be a promotional visionary, creating a “Miramax before Miramax” with Island Alive Pictures (and, with Carolyn Pfeiffer, installing the first female studio head in Hollywood) and essentially inventing the “celebrity chef” as we know it today. Through it all, Gordon was devoting more time to helping others achieve success than thinking about himself—and spurred on in part by a recent heart attack that almost killed him, by the end of the film he’s finally decided to focus more on his own happiness, which he hopes will include a child in the future.
Much of Supermensch’s first half is devoted to Gordon detailing his sometimes outrageous methods for bringing about stardom for the likes of Cooper, Murray and other musicians. The slyly strategic capitalist mindset that this part of the film showcases—in which even Cooper’s infamous chicken-killing incident at a Toronto Rock and Roll Revival concert in 1969 is revealed to have been at least partially conceived for rebellious-image effect by Gordon—raises the question of how much of Gordon’s own humble personality in this film is genuine and how much is savvy calculation. And that’s not the only larger question the starry-eyed Myers has no interest in probing. His former womanizing ways are so casually accepted, for instance, that when Gordon reminisces about Wynonna Williams, a one-time girlfriend whose orphaned grandchildren he would eventually adopt after she died, Myers never bothers to ask why they separated in the first place. But perhaps the film’s biggest contradiction is presented by Gordon himself when he says that he has no interest in fame. The irony of the fact that he says this in a suffocatingly adulatory feature-length documentary meant to show him off to the world is thick indeed.