The Arty Semite

Why 'Supermensch' Shep Gordon Likes To Be a Plus-1

By Dorri Olds

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It took Mike Myers 10 years of begging for Shep Gordon to agree to a documentary about his life. The film, “Supermensch: The Legend of Shep Gordon,” is Myers’s first go at directing, and he made a masterpiece.

Gordon was the one who masterminded Alice Cooper’s image with stunts like throwing a live chicken on stage, putting underwear on the album “School’s Out,” and plastering a picture of Cooper naked — save for a snake covering his manhood — on the side of a truck whose driver was paid to “break down” during rush hour in London.

Gordon also invented the concept of the celebrity chef, managed Teddy Pendergrass, Luther Vandross and Raquel Welch, and handled Groucho Marx during his senior years, pro bono.

But all of these accomplishments don’t describe the sweet essence of the man — the mensch — that Myers captures in his movie.

Gordon came to the rescue of a grandmother who had no idea how she’d be able to raise her suddenly deceased daughter’s four children. Gordon said, “It seemed like something had to be done, and I had the resources.” He supported them and they became his makeshift family.

Dorri Olds caught up with Shep Gordon to talk about Jewish spirituality, living at the same hotel as Janis Joplin, why he always likes to be a plus-one.

Dorri Olds: You have led such an eclectic life.

Shep Gordon: Yes, and Mike got it all in and made it make sense. I wanted to meet myself after watching the movie.

Where does your generosity come from?

I think it’s very natural but we lose it as we grow up. When you see a little baby and how they treat another baby, they usually run over and hug him and kiss him, bring them a toy, throw a ball. I think it’s very natural for humans to want to help humans, until they get to a certain age and then experience pollutes them and they want to beat the other person instead of help.

How do you think that you maintained that — especially in the world of entertainment?

I don’t know, not through any practice like religion or yoga or meditating. It just seemed natural.

Do you have any kind of spiritual life?

Yes, I have a strong spiritual life but not organized. Buddhism is a way of life not a religion and although I’m not a practicing Buddhist, everything I hear about and feel about Buddhism just feels good. I think of myself as a spiritual and cultural Jew, and very much so. Living in Maui you can’t help but be spiritual. Every second there you know that there had to be somebody bigger than you that created the beauty. It’s a miracle.

What are the best things about being famous? Getting invited to celebrity golf tournaments. [Smiles] There are very few things about being famous that are really useful. It’s a byproduct of a successful career in the public eye. There are financial rewards, there’s access, but fame itself is very dangerous. My favorite position was being a plus-one to a famous person. When Michael Douglas was single I would be the plus-one a lot. In a plus-one position with a famous person your day would be something like this: You get on a private plane after a limousine picks you up. On the plane is everything you like to eat and drink. You get flown to Milan; people meet you at the airplane where it lands. If you’re the famous person, someone sits on the plane with you and reads you a list, “Tomorrow morning you’re in make-up at 7 a.m., at 12 you’ve got TV interviews, then a half-hour break for lunch, then we have 14 press interviews for you, and we need you in a tuxedo at 6:30. We’ll pick you up for the red carpet.” When you’re the plus-one they turn to you and say, “Mr. Gordon, while Mr. Douglas is working would you like to get a massage or see the sights of the city? What can we do for you?” So a plus-one is the position. [Laughs]

What exactly did you mean when you said fame is dangerous?

To become famous you need to be rejected so many times, whether you’re an actress, actor, or musician. You play to so many empty clubs as a musician to get to the point where the room is full. If you asked Meryl Streep how many times did she go up for parts before she got her first part, I’m sure it’s in the hundreds. There’s nobody famous who hasn’t been rejected and rejection is very tough and most people wouldn’t deal with that much rejection unless they have something driving them; some need for admiration from people, some self-worth issues — like this is what is going to define their self-worth. Something unnatural is driving them. And when you get to be famous it hasn’t filled that hole so you tend to use crutches like drugs, food, liquor to fill up whatever you thought was going to happen when you got to where you are. So it’s very dangerous and it’s not a normal person who becomes famous. It takes a special person with a special kind of drive, which usually comes from some place darker.

Speaking of darker, did you interact with Jimi Hendrix and Janis Joplin?

I spent time with both of them. Janis and I lived at the same hotel.

I read that Janis Joplin was having very loud sex on a diving board by the pool at the hotel. Is that true?

[Laughs] Yeah, and that wasn’t unusual at the Hollywood Landmark. You have to remember, this was pre-AIDS. This was when sexual liberation was a part of life and this was a hotel where every groupie knew they were going to find rock stars. There were men and women and sexual promiscuity was part of the fabric. Groupies would come in the front door and they’d work their way around the hotel. It would be two days with Pink Floyd, then over to Creedence Clearwater, then on to another and they’d just work their way around.

Why do you suppose you were able to have these great bonding experiences with guys like Alice Cooper and Mike Myers, and yet you’ve said you weren’t able to be intimate with women?

I’ve never really questioned that. When I watched the movie, it became apparent to me that my youth had something to do with that. When I say in the movie that my mother was very cruel, that was part of a longer conversation. I also talked about how much she loved me but she had a strange way of showing her love. A lot of people who came from Europe and were driven out by the Nazis had this strange way of showing love. Stuff was weird. But the only word that showed up in the movie was “cruel” and it is a word I use to describe her.

I’ve never really gone through psychotherapy. In some ways I’ve used my work as an excuse to not have to deal with my own personal history, but when I look back at it now at 68 and I see the pattern of my life with women and my childhood I’m sure there is a very strong correlation. I’m basically pretty happy every day, at times lonely, but happy. I always felt that if I got to the point where I wasn’t happy then I’d have to figure out the big issues but if I could just be happy, that was pretty good. When I saw people go through extensive psychotherapy many times they lost their joy. Everything had a cause and effect instead of just experiencing it. I chose not to do it but the movie brought up a lot of that stuff for me that I never dealt with.

Was that uncomfortable?

Yeah, very much so. It still is.

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