The Foolproof Guide To Managing Rockstars

Acid road trips with Jimi Hendrix and Janis Joplin. Three-day benders with Teddy Pendergrass. Chicken killing with Alice Cooper. So how did Shep Gordon, super manager, survive?. Answer: “I’m the luckiest guy in the world”

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Shep Gordon has done it all. All of it. A million times over. As much sex, drugs and rock and roll as anyone else, except he lived to tell the tale. Many tales.

King of both success and excess, he started off selling drugs, then became a showbiz manager, creating and nurturing the craziest stars of the Seventies and Eighties. He dated Sharon Stone in the Nineties, and is by all accounts the nicest guy in the world, hence the title Mike Myers has bestowed on him for a documentary about his life: Supermensch.

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Having grown up in New York in the Sixties and then graduating from university, Gordon got a job as a probation officer in LA, leaving after a day when a baseball game he naively organised ended up with the kids beating the crap out of him. With a shedload of LSD in his bag and coursing round his system, he stopped at the first motel he found, and got punched again, this time by a woman he thought was being raped on the pool's diving board.

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Hearing her wail, he'd run out to help; she hit him for interrupting what was in fact some vigorous lovemaking. As luck would have it, the couple were Janis Joplin and Jimi Hendrix, who immediately took a shine to Shep (and his acid), welcoming him into their world. Hendrix asked him if he was Jewish, and on confirmation suggested he become a music manager, setting him up with Alice Cooper. And that's how to enter showbusiness.

Shep came up with Cooper's theatricality, most memorably, one night at a peace festival in 1969, throwing a live chicken onto the stage. In turn Cooper hurled it into the crowd, who ripped it apart, splattering the place in chicken blood. So much for peace. It was good for headlines though, as was the time Shep got Alice to pose naked, with but a snake covering his modesty, for a billboard truck they then arranged to 'break down' in Piccadilly Circus, selling out Wembley Arena as a result.

No wallflower, he wore a T-shirt at gigs that read ‘NO HEAD, NO BACKSTAGE PASS’.

To win Teddy Pendergrass as a client, he challenged him to a drugfest; if Shep was the last man standing, he'd get to manage him. He arrived at Teddy's penthouse with a briefcase full of coke, grass, mushrooms and ludes. Three days later, Teddy collapsed; Shep managed him for the rest of his life.

His company grew – clients included Luther Vandross, Raquel Welch and Blondie – and at his peak he was grossing $22m a year. But then drugs started killing everybody and, realising that he was on the road to becoming the next casualty, he began to dial it down, eventually moving to Maui to find out who he really was.

He adopted his ex-girlfriend's four grandchildren after their mother died, and today, food is his greatest passion. He lives to cook, holding epic dinner parties at his Maui home, where the world's biggest power players come to unwind.

Work talk is strictly forbidden.

Mike Myers, he of Austin Powers fame, met Shep in 1991, fell for his charms, bought a house nearby in Maui, and has wanted to make a documentary about him for years. Finally his subject succumbed, and Supermensch: The Legend Of Shep Gordon is a very funny, very affectionate portrait of a man absolutely beloved by the great and the good.

Now 68, he's a delight to talk to, and laughs a lot. It helps that he's in Maui, watching humpback whales swim past. “I'm here for a few days,” he says after travelling the world to promote the film. “So I'm happy about that. It's so beautiful. So beautiful.”


You were in California at its hippy height, smoking and selling weed, doing LSD and everything that became synonymous with the period. Do you remember it all fondly?

“I do remember it very fondly. It was an amazing time. I came from a generation that felt like we could change things. That morphed into free love and hallucinogenics and experimentation with drugs, which were fairly new to all of us. Drugs were something that were really only found in the ghettos, not for the liberal white college kids that we were. So none of us had ideas about consequences. In terms of sexual behaviour, there was no AIDS; in terms of drugs, none of our friends had died yet. Nobody had gone to rehab, it wasn't even a word that anybody knew.

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So it was free love and everything's beautiful and wonderful, doo dee doo dee doo... It was only really later, looking back on it, that you see how lucky the survivors are. The first glimpse for all of us was when Jimi and Janis and everyone died at 27. All from abuse. That was really the first time we started to realise there were consequences, but we were all on the highway already. We were living the same life they had lived.”

And times were changing so quickly as well.

“And times were changing so quickly. Rock and roll was taking over, we were all becoming cultural icons and people were telling us we were great, and meanwhile our friends were dying. It took a while for all of us to sort through the information and say, 'Wait a second, this is self-imposed hardship. We don't have to hurt ourselves.' I'm so happy I lived through those times, but when they're talked about they have to be talked about in a real way, not just 'Everything was beautiful.' It was beautiful because we didn't realise the consequences of our actions.”

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Were you selling drugs when you attempted to be a probation officer?

“I wasn't at that moment. I had sold drugs to get through college. Then I went to California to start a real life. I thought in that spirit of thinking I could effect the world. I really was a hippie on a white horse: 'I'm gonna save some kids.' But by that time psychedelics were a part of my life, so I did take a stash of psychedelics with me. Which were very easy to carry in large quantities, it was on paper with little blotters. A couple of hundred of them, three or four pieces of stationery.”

It's funny how things work out. You happened to have a load of drugs with you and it launched you into this entire business.

“Yeah. Luckiest guy in the world! It's funny, I can remember the moment Jimi said to me, 'Are you Jewish?' My first instinct was to run. When I was in high school there was a lot of anti-Semitism. So when he said it, it was like, 'Aaaaahh... Do I run or do I tell him the truth?' So being Jewish was a turning point in my life, because he told me I should be a manager. Everybody in showbusiness in those days was Jewish, or at least the perception was that they were. So it was very easy for Jimi to say, 'Are you Jewish? You should be a manager!' And that changed my life.”

You spent a large amount of time smoking pot with Willie Nelson around then. How did you meet?

“I think I met Willie at a party. A manager introduced us and we hit it off right away because we both loved smoking.”

You couldn't ask for a better pot buddy I imagine.

“Yeah, exactly, and still! He lives on Maui! He laughs a lot, as do I. Yep! [More laughs]”

When you signed artists you would say to them, 'If I do my job perfectly I'll probably kill you.' What did you mean?

“It was after Jimi and Janis and everyone died. I could see that it was epidemic. Alice [Cooper] was becoming an alcoholic, he had a guitar player who was an alcoholic, I could just see that the bands who became the most famous were the ones who had problems. And my job was to make them famous. So I realised that if I did my job right I could really hurt them. I never felt my mission on the planet was to hurt people, but that was my profession. So I tried to deal with it honestly and just tell them the truth. Nobody ever listened to me; they all laughed. But at least I got to tell them. I would shut the door, have a quiet moment and say, 'I know you're not gonna listen to me, but I have to tell you this, and it's real. Any time you wanna say “Time out”, great.'”

One of the most famous stories about you is Alice and the chicken. What was going through your mind as that thing got ripped to pieces?

“It turned out to be the defining moment of Alice's career. It worked out perfectly, like my Jimi Hendrix Jewish moment. I didn't know what would happen but it seemed like the perfect easel for us to paint on. It was billed as a peace festival, so having Alice on the show to begin with was so radical, because there was nothing peaceful about Alice in any way shape or form. It was a moment for us to separate ourselves from every other group on the bill, who for the most part were all love and flowers. The Doors were a little rougher but it was Jefferson Airplane, Grateful Dead, those kind of bands. It was John Lennon's first solo show, and he was the example of peace and love. And that chicken just happened to be there.”

A chicken just happened to be there?

“As I recall we passed a chicken farm driving in. I just pulled the car over and got the chicken. I didn't wake up in the morning and say, 'Let's get a chicken.' But when I saw the chicken, I said, 'If I put that chicken on stage with Alice, something's gonna happen that's gonna really disgust people!' Alice and I weren't farm people. It had wings; I thought a chicken could fly! So my vision was he was gonna throw it out and it would fly over the audience, maybe shit on someone's head, we'd get a great story. I had no idea that it would plummet! [laughs hysterically] The next day the outrage was unbelievable. And we wanted to feed on the outrage, so we gave an interview for everyone who wanted one. The first one was a lady who was so outraged that he would kill a chicken, and he said to her, 'How many KFCs did you drive by to come to this interview? Why aren't you bugging Colonel Sanders?' [laughs]”

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Good point.

“It was a great point! I have as much compassion for every living chicken as anyone else but it is true. It was one chicken. But it did define Alice, it turned him into the Dali of the music business, which is really what we wanted.”

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Then you had him naked on the billboard truck.

“Somebody just did it again at Piccadilly, a flatbed truck with a fake octopus on it. But it was exactly our stunt. This is really sick, but at one point I thought of calling the film company for this documentary and saying, 'Maybe we should do a billboard of me naked with a snake for the opening of the movie in Piccadilly!' [Laughs. A lot]”

There's still time…

“There's still time! [Laughs. Not sure he is going to stop]”

I read that you managed Rick James, which isn't covered in the film. That must have been a blast as well…

“I love Rick James. My experiences with Rick were fantastic. He broke into my office, basically. He sat down in a chair; I can see it like it was yesterday. He said, 'Hey motherfucker! You're gonna manage me.' And I said, 'Listen, make an appointment, you can't come breaking in here.' And he said, 'I know everything about you.' He listed where I was from, where I'd lived, the car I drove, who my roommates were. I grew up in Buffalo and he was a Buffalo boy. He really got my attention. And I started listening to his stuff and it was amazing.

He was one of the smartest artists I'd ever worked with; also one of the biggest casualties. He really was a complete victim of fame. He was a sensitive, compassionate guy. And by the end there was nothing left, there were no insides to the inside. It was really sad. He's one of the few artists that I resigned from.”


“I just... he was hurting himself so bad. I didn't wanna help him to earn the money to kill himself.”

Did you tell him this?

“Yeah and I think it was a real shock. But you could really see that there was gonna be an ugly ending, and I just didn't wanna participate. I got him to rehab once. And then he just wouldn't deal with it again; he wouldn't listen. He hurt himself more than anyone else, he just got into this dark heroin, coke... just a nightmare.”

Although you must have been as excessive as anyone else, how did you know that you'd be able to out-drug Teddy Pendergrass on that three-day bender?

“Yeah! I've always had a huge tolerance. My dad never got drunk. He could drink a bottle of cognac and it was like he never had a drink. And I inherited that. I was always the guy who drove when we took acid. I've always had a very large tolerance, it's a blessing and a curse.”

Which goes hand in hand with your appetite for everything, including women…

“Yes, absolutely.”

Did you buy your Maui house around this time?

“I bought the house in Maui in '74. I didn't come here full-time until 12 years ago, and I shut down the business.”

When did you shut down all the debauchery?

“The real debauchery ended around 1982. I was still living in California, and I became a recreational user. But I didn't feel like it was filling up a hole any more.”

So your craziness had ended when you went out with Sharon Stone a few years later?

“Yeah. I met her when she did Total Recall and we lived together while she did Basic Instinct. Michael Douglas is one of my best friends and he had complained to me that they couldn't get anyone for the role. None of the actresses wanted to spread their legs!” Sharon didn't want to either, but I really took the role of manager. She had at that point done many great movies, but she hadn't reached the star status that she really wanted.”

Did your version of Eighties America live up to its reputation as a decade of materialistic excess?

“I think so, yes. It's when I realised I was really starting to get into trouble. When things like getting invited to parties were important to me. Having the right table at a restaurant. All those things that started to happen in the Eighties. I really felt that weight pretty heavily.”

The new you really shines in the film. Why did you finally agree to do it?

“I had this ridiculous moment of insecurity when I wasn't getting invited to celebrity golf tournaments. And on a whim I called Mike [Myers] and said, 'You still wanna do this thing? I'm thinking about saying yes for a really sick reason but I want you to hear it.' And I told him about the golf thing.”

And have you been getting your celebrity golf invites now?

“I have. I got two good ones last week, which I'm very excited about.”

So it worked!

“It worked. [Laughs. And laughs and laughs some more]”

Supermensch: The Legend Of Shep Gordon is in cinemas from 18 July

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