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Sex, Drugs and Buddha: Tales of a Hollywood Supermensch

17/07/2014 11:49 BST | Updated 15/09/2014 10:59 BST

The Chicken was My Idea. Is one possible title for the autobiography of Shep Gordon, long-time manager of shock rocker Alice Cooper. But he could equally pick Cary Grant Stole My Cat, Making Yak Tea for the Dalai Lama or Yes, I did indeed date Sharon Stone. Because this is a man who has experienced many lives in one go.

Credited with creating the first celebrity chefs, rescuing Teddy Pendergrass from the "gangsterism" of club promoters and instrumental in forging Alice's horror-show persona, Shep is the subject of a rollicking and sweetly touching documentary by Mike Myers.

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But there was no showbiz masterplan from the start. Having studied sociology at University of Buffalo, Shep's initial career path was that of probation officer. California called to him with its idealised "flowers in your hair" charms and a wish to combat the governor's oppression (one R. Reagan), so he took a job at Los Padrinos Detention Center. This was to be extremely short-lived as the guards took exception to long-haired hippies of Shep's sort and left him to the young offenders' mercy during a softball game. "I became the ball" he laughs, "but the kids were set up to it. They didn't want me there."

Heading on to L.A, he pitched up at the Landmark Motor Hotel where, whilst tripping on acid, he mistook a poolside sexual encounter for a fight and tried to split it up. Once again Shep was on the receiving end of angry fists, this time belonging to gravel-throated bawler Janis Joplin. They became firm friends and he ended up hanging out with her, Jimi Hendrix and Jim Morrison.

It was Jimi who, on discovering he was Jewish, encouraged Shep to become a manager and introduced him to Alice. The sight of Janis, Jimi and Jim in his hotel room plus all the grass they could smoke was enough for Alice's band to say "You're our guy!"

Did L.A feel like the centre of the universe back then? "Not really. It was all very natural. No excess. No limos. We were living without consequences. There was no AIDS, no deaths from drugs. Concert tickets were just a dollar. It was more about surviving each day and having enough money to eat or buy equipment."

One associates rock managers with hardball-playing nutcases, so how did he deal with the rough stuff? "You didn't have to be ugly about it. I knew Peter Grant a little and heard some horror stories about him. Don Arden was a tough character. But I never encountered that kind of thing."

Except perhaps when he became involved in looking after Teddy Pendergrass. Clubs for Afro-American acts were run on a Mafia-style basis, "well organised by just a few people and funding a lot of things." Artists weren't getting paid and Shep was determined to change this for Teddy. He had a gun held to his head on several occasions and two people were pistol-whipped in his office "to show they meant business." As scary as this sounds, he refused to give in. "I wasn't brave but I thought, Fuck 'em. I had nothing to lose. No family, no house and just a rented car." He breaks into a big booming laugh.

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The film documents Alice's transformation from "horrible" act into global superstar. It was Shep's go-for-it attitude that led to crazy stunts such as the whole band wearing see-thru PVC suits onstage (while Shep rang the cops to 'complain'). It was also he who organised a billboard to be driven through central London emblazoned with Cooper naked bar a large boa constrictor covering his man-bits. "Imagine watching the British news at 6 o'clock. It was bad enough that he was a man called Alice..."

And yes, it was Shep who threw THAT chicken from the wings, which Alice left completely unharmed. Well, apart from lobbing it into the front rows, who then returned the poor fowl in bloody bite-sized segments. "Then to see Ozzy do it...people year after year... superb."

How would he advise acts trying to break through today? "I wouldn't know what to tell them. It's a much tougher river to jump into and I don't understand it well enough to help them start to swim." He does however love Lady Gaga and Miley Cyrus ("the Alice of today") for their parent-baiting shock tactics. Grabbing the day's newspaper, he delightedly shows me photos from the recent World Cup Final. Rihanna kissing the victorious German players. Illicitly holding the World Cup trophy. Flashing her leather bra. "That's Alice to a T!"

With peers succumbing to addiction, Janice ending her days at the Landmark and Alice himself heading to rehab, how did Shep survive? "I had a gigantic capacity. For good or for bad. I was always the designated driver on acid." He doesn't feel he suffered too much but did relocate to the tranquility of Maui in 1974, growing tired of L.A and its "externality".

And his heart attack in 2012; was that a perspective-shifter? "Not really, no. It was so fast." He passed out, woke up and the operation was all over, oblivious that he'd had only a 20% chance of making it through. "By then I was already a cancer survivor. When your doctor says you have cancer, the next time you look into a mirror you're staring at your mortality."

Despite his Playboy Bunny-dating past and infamous "NO HEAD NO BACKSTAGE PASS" T-shirt (which benefited both genders of the touring crew equally), Shep comes across as a very enlightened soul. A keen enthusiast of Buddhist practices, he speaks of "compassionate business" where there are no losers, just winners. His key role in elevating chefs to celebrity status seemed to stem from frustration that these hugely talented people were getting so badly treated. All life - "not just show business" - is about mutual favours and paying back good deeds or "coupons" as he calls them.

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There are so many stories bubbling away in Shep's genial head, but we only had time left to cover George Clinton squeezing his multi-coloured dreadlocks past the Secret Service to hug the Dalai Lama ("their smiles were the same!"), Shep preserving Raquel Welch's modesty - and chiffon dress - in front of the Academy Awards' cameras and how he bonded with Michael Douglas by bagging the only two couches onboard a private plane, leaving Sly Stallone and Arnold Schwarzenegger stuck in the cramped coach seats for the whole flight. "Eighteen hours from L.A to Cannes with two refuelling stops!" Again, the thunderous laugh reverberates around the room.

Supermensch: The Legend of Shep Gordon is on release at selected cinemas.

http://supermenschthemovie.com/