Why Helping 4 Kids in Trouble Is One Music Exec's Biggest Success
Though Winona kept inviting Shep to come an visit, he always had an excuse. But then, as if it were the most natural thing in the world, the resistance fell away. Part of it was the kids' innocence—the same thing that had drawn him to Mia; part of it was this unexpected chance to redo his own past. "I woke up one day," Shep remembers, "and said, 'Let me get my childhood back with these guys." A door opened—he had an idea. "I called up Winona and said, 'Do you think everybody would like to go to Disney World?'" Shep says. "She said, 'Are you kidding?' I'd never been to Disney World, and I always wanted to go. And I couldn't imagine a better way than with four kids."
Before setting off for Orlando, however, Shep had to properly introduce himself. Ever the showman, he arrived at the kids' front door wearing a Rasta wig.
It could have backfired, but once the children recovered from the ridiculous sight, they all laughed and welcomed this large, silly, incredibly important man into their lives.
Says Winona, "The showing up was the commitment: 'Okay, he's here.' Thus, the journey begins. The 18-year journey."
Henceforth, the Champagne-swilling hotshot would be known as Grandpa Shep.
In the beginning, none of us thought about being married, none of us thought about having kids," says Alice Cooper, propping his feet, clad in black boots embossed with a skull and crossbones, on the coffee table in his suite at New York's Waldorf-Astoria Hotel. He's here rehearsing for the next night's Rock and Roll Hall of Fame ceremony, during which he and his former band will be inducted. The familiar, stringy dyed-black ultra-shag frames his open, amused, middle-aged face; with different hair and clothes he could be selling insurance. "All we cared about was where the next show was, and is there gonna be beer there. :ater on when we got past the insanity of the rock star thing, it was suddenly, 'Okay, now we have to start controlling this lifestyle because we want to live through it.' That's when people starting getting interested in settling down." In 1975 Cooper met Sheryl Goddard, a ballet-trained dancer on his Welcome to My Nightmare tour; they've been married 35 years, surviving Cooper's battle with alcohol, among other things, and have three kids, ages 19, 26, and 30.
When the children were little, in the early '90s, they magically acquired four instant "cousins" in the form of Shep's kids. "I had Amber on one hip, my daughter on the other hip, and they were just my own," says Sheryl Cooper. The rambling clans—Winona and sometimes her mother included—vacationed together. "We spent a lot of time in Hawaii, down in Florida at Disney World, Europe," says Alice. ("Yeah, we did all that family stuff," Shep says later, with a proud, contented chuckle.) "His kids came on tour. The band had a bus and Shep got another bus—I said, 'Great, that'll be the kids' bus.'" Shep made every outing a party, colonizing tables at restaurants and ordering everything on the menu with a wave of his hand. He frequently brought other bold-faced friends into the mix—big-deal guys who seemed both inspired and abashed by what Shep had taken on: When the kids were in Hawaii, former NBA coach Don Nelson ("Uncle Donny") picked them up every day and took them to his home to swim; actor Tom Arnold had a standing game of pool with Amber and once missed a flight in order to fit it in. The only way he knew how, Shep was creating family ties. "When Shep connects to you, you are sewn to his clothes," Alice says. "You are connected, and you have to do something horrible to be disconnected."
Still, given that he and the kids lived so far apart, their relationship played out mostly during the holidays and summer vacation—until Amber, at 11 years old and looking to attend boarding school near someone she knew, chose one in Hawaii.