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Mensch behind Hollywood icons returns to UB

Shep Gordon, center, at a Q&A after the screening of "Supermensch." With Gordon are, from left, Tyler Bauer, a GA in the College of Arts and Sciences, and Dennis Black, vice president for university life and services. Photo: Douglas Levere

By MARCENE ROBINSON

Published October 30, 2014

“The best days of my life were the days I spent here and my time here helped set up my life.”
Shep Gordon

Shep Gordon graduated from UB a notorious prankster. Last week, he returned a Hollywood legend.

In Buffalo to pay tribute to fellow UB alumnus and friend Gustin L. Reichbach, Gordon, a well-loved manager and producer, attended a screening of “Supermensch: The Legend of Shep Gordon,” a documentary about his life and Mike Myers’ directorial debut.

The screening, hosted by the College of Arts and Sciences, was held Oct. 23 in the Student Union Theatre and was open to the campus community.

“Supermensch,” released in 2013, chronicles Gordon’s countless accomplishments. Among them:

  • Launching the careers of Alice Cooper, Teddy Pendergrass, Luther Vandross, Blondie, Pink Floyd, Anne Murray and others.
  • Creating the first independent film company in the U.S.
  • Breaking the Chitlin’ Circuit — a string of performance venues that were safe and acceptable for African-Americans during the Jim Crow era — and helping black artists reach mainstream exposure.
  • Inventing the craze of the celebrity chef and sparking the fame of Emeril Lagasse, Wolfgang Puck and more.
  • Serving as the 14th Dalai Lama’s personal cook.

Yet, despite a profession that keeps him near music, film and cooking icons, Gordon considers his time at UB the greatest period of his life

Shep Gordon, left, talks with students. Photo: Douglas Levere

“All of my memories here were just fantastic,” says Gordon, now retired and living in Hawaii. “My best friends were the relationships I formed at UB. The best days of my life were the days I spent here and my time here helped set up my life.”

E. Bruce Pitman, dean of the College of Arts and Sciences, said that having Gordon on campus "provided a unique opportunity for our students. To hear Shep credit his time at UB as the most memorable of his life, given all of his experiences, is a comment that students will not forget," Pitman said.

"The film gave students an insider’s look at one of our accomplished alumni.”

Gordon, a 1968 UB graduate, began his historic career as a manager after a chance encounter in Los Angeles with Jimi Hendrix and Janis Joplin. In town for a job as a corrections officer at a juvenile detention center, it was their suggestion that he manage musicians that pushed him to change fields.

His ability to keep his clients in news headlines and in front of sold-out crowds made Gordon one of the world’s most sought-after managers.

But he discovered his talent for orchestrating excitement long before moving to Los Angeles. In fact, he found it while leading perhaps the most infamous hoax in UB history.

While cramming for a biology final with his fraternity brothers, the group was stumped searching for the name of a marchantia liverwort’s reproductive organ, a thallus. Upon the discovery, one of the boys said the name sounds like the head of a country, and the Thallus of Marchantia was born.

One of Gordon’s friends flew to New York City and mailed a telegram to the Buffalo Evening News detailing that the Thallus, the imaginary leader of an oil-rich African country, would stop in Buffalo during his first official visit to the United States.

“We all thought it would go nowhere,” says Gordon. “We wake up the next morning and it’s the front page of the Buffalo Evening News.”

Adding fuel to the fire, he spread the rumor to Jewish community leaders that the Thallus was anti-Semitic. Gordon then placed one on his friends on a plane to Buffalo wrapped in a sheet and a towel on his head as a turban.

The aftermath: nearly a thousand protestors, a small riot that broke a window and a limousine ride with the mayor.

In the crowd during the ruckus was Gordon, holding a sign that read: “Thallus, go back to your palace.”

“That was the first time I realized you can make history,” says Gordon, who went on to stage shows for entertainers that include Earth, Wind and Fire; Neil Diamond and KISS.

“You don’t have to wait for it. And that’s basically been my career: manufacturing events that become historical.”