One of the world's most infamous music managers has passed away today. Jerry Heller, born Gerald Heller, was 75 years old at the time of his death. He reportedly died of a heart attack late Friday evening, passing at Los Robles Hospital in Thousand Oaks, California.
Heller was the ex-music manager for N.W.A. He was famously played by Paul Giamatti in last summer's late August blockbuster Straight Outta Compton. It was a performance that Heller himself found quite hurtful. Jerry Heller's cousin Gary Ballen confirmed the news of the man's passing to Billboard.
Jerry Heller was in his mid-40s when he became involved with N.W.A's Easy-E and the label Ruthless Records. His efforts with the band help establish hardcore and gangsta rap as a new genre in Hip-Hop. He didn't like his portrayal in Straight Outta Compton so much, he decided to sue the makers behind the film. In June of this year, a U.S. District judge dismissed Heller's lawsuit except for one claim, which was allowed to continue.
After Ice Cube left N.W.A in the early 90s, Heller became the subject of a number of dis tracks and videos, perhaps most notoriously in Cube's 1991 song 'No Vaseline', where the rapper suggested that someone put a 'bullet' in Heller's 'temple', referring to the man as 'that devil'. These events were all chronicled in the 2015 N.W.A biopic.
Born to a Jewish family in Shaker Heights, Cleveland, Heller faced strong anti-Semitism growing up, and had a father who was involved with the Jewish mob. Gerald joined the Army at an early age, and after being discharged, he earned a business degree from University of Southern California. He found his niche serving as an agent for such artists as Creedence Clearwater Revival and Marvin Gaye throughout the 60s and 70s. He went on to help promote albums for Pink Floyd, Elton John, and Kraftwerk.
Heller hit a stumbling block in the 80s, and wound up back at his parents' house in Encino, California. He soon found success managing groups in the burgeoning Los Angeles hip-hop scene. Working for Hollywood record plant and label Macola, he would manage such groups as World Class Wreckin' Cru and C.I.A., the first groups to employ Dr. Dre and Ice Cube.
Heller's most notorious, and what some call his greatest pairing, is when he hooked up with drug dealer Eric Wright, who was looking to go straight. Wright paid World Class Wreckin' Cru leader Alonzo Williams to introduce him to Heller, hoping that Jerry could take his Ruthless Records, and his own rap persona as Eazy-E, to the next level.
Heller liked what Wright was selling, and soon invested money in both Ruthless Records and N.W.A, becoming their manager. He would also manage many of the other bands on Ruthless Records. N.W.A took off in the late 80s, finding tremendous success with such hits as F--- Tha Police and Straight Outta Compton. Ruthless Records would go onto become quite lucrative throughout the rest of the 80s and into the early 90s.
Jerry Heller helped Ruthless artists J.J. Fad, Michel'le, the D.O.C., and Bone Thugs-n-Harmony go gold or platinum during this period. And by 1995, he was bringing in millions of dollars every month. Heller would remain close with Easy-E, whom he mentored and served as a type of father figure, which famously tore at the rest of the N.W.A members.
During his time with Ruthless Records, Heller would often clash with many of the artists. Ice Cube left N.W.A after a rift with Jerry in 1988 claiming he hadn't been properly paid for his contributions. Dr. Dre, the main producer for N.W.A would then leave in 1991 with similar complaints. Though, neither artist ever sued Heller. And he was never found guilt of any wrongdoing.
Following the break up of N.W.A in the mid-90s, Heller and Easy-E ran into problems with Dr. Dre's new label Death Row Record, mainly its co-founder Suge Knight, which forced Jerry to heavily arm himself and install special security for fear of retaliation. Before his death from AIDS in 1995, Easy-E would also have a falling out with Jerry Heller, and fired him after 8 years of partnership. Heller doesn't believe that Wright was in his right mind when these events came to pass. Others claim that Wright was $2 million in debt because of Heller, and that's what brought an end to their partnership.
Following his departure from Ruthless Records, Heller became involved with a number of different projects over the years, including co-founding a labeled called Hit a Lick Records, which featured prominent Latino rap groups. In more recent years, he had been collaborating with 8 Mile director Jim Sheridan to turn his memoir into a movie.
At the time of his death, Heller still lived in the Calabasas mansion he had purchased in the 1990s during his Ruthless Records heyday. The house was just two doors down from Easy-E's own former house. Heller also still had the white BMW that was purchased for him by Easy-E, which had the license plate 'RTHLSS2'. Easy himself had the same car, its license plate reading 'RTHLSS1'. There is no mention on whether or not Jerry Heller's biopic is still in the works.