Jerry Heller Dead: 5 Fast Facts You Need to Know

Jerry Heller, Jerry Heller dead, NWA mamager

Jerry Heller (right) and radio DJ Chick Watkins. (Getty)

Jerry Heller, the original manager of N.W.A. and the co-founder of Ruthless Records, died on Saturday at the age of 75. The news was first reported by All Hip Hop, shortly after artists and those who knew him began sharing their condolences on social media. A cause of death was not immediately revealed.

Heller was portrayed by Paul Giamatti in the film Straight Outta Compton last year and took Universal and the producers to court, claiming that his portrayal in the film was false.

Here is a look at his life and career, which dates back to the 1960s, as well as his death. This is a breaking story and will be updated.

1. Heller Filed a Defamation Lawsuit Against Universal Over His Portrayal in ‘Straight Outta Compton’

Last year, Heller filed a defamation lawsuit against Universal and the producers of Straight Outta Compton over his portrayal in the film. Heller’s lawsuit had initially complained about scenes where it was implied that he withheld money from the group and induced them into signing bad contracts. However, The Hollywood Reporter reported that, in the latest development in the case, the judge ruled that there was only one claim that could keep Heller’s lawsuit alive.

“The Film arguably portrays Plaintiff as an exploitative record label manager who attempted to take advantage of an unsophisticated artist by discouraging him from retaining an attorney during contract negotiations,” U.S. District Judge Michael Fitzgerald wrote.

Fitzgerald noted that there was no evidence to back the claim that Heller specifically told N.W.A. not to get lawyers. You can read the entire opinion here.

According to Deadline, Heller was seeking $110 million in damages.

One of the scenes Heller objected to showed Heller withholding a $75,000 check from Ice Cube. He claimed this never happened, explaining to Rolling Stone that Ice Cube hadn’t signed a contract.

He said, “I want my lawyer,” and I told the rest of the guys, “Do you want to take it to a lawyer?” “No, no, no. Just give us the checks.” So Ice Cube said, “I want my lawyer to read it.” I said, “Yeah, absolutely.” He had a good lawyer, Lee Young, Jr., who used to be the head of business affairs at Motown and a guy that I have done business with over the years. Ice Cube said, “Give me my check.” I said, “Listen, give Lee Young the contracts,” and I handed him the contracts. I said, “When Lee Young makes his comments and we agreed on whatever we said, then I will send Lee Young your check. You can’t expect Eazy-E to give somebody a check and the guy doesn’t sign the contract.” So for him to say that I withheld the check, that’s just being clever. Did I not give him the check? Yes. Did he sign the contract? No. Did he take them to his lawyer? Yes. And that’s the way things were. I find nothing wrong with that. That’s the way business is.

2. Heller Says He Worked with Legends Van Morrison, CCR & Otis Redding & Booked Elton John’s First American Shows

Just as Straight Outta Compton hit theaters, Grantland published an extensive profile on Heller, who was born in Ohio. When he was 19, he decided to head to California and became immersed in the rock scene. He claimed to Grantland that he worked with The Eagles and Creedence Clearwater Revival before they began using their famous band names. He said he drove Otis Redding to Monterey and talked the Black Panthers out of killing Ike Turner.

He said he helped get Van Morrison to New York and had a professional relationship with Marvin Gaye. He also talked about bringing Pink Floyd and Elton John to the U.S.

“Look, I brought Elton John here. I represented Marvin Gaye, Pink Floyd, Journey, Styx, REO Speedwagon, Van Morrison. Of all the things that I’ve done, certainly the most important period of my life was March 3, 1987, to March 26, 1995,” Heller said, referring to the day met Eazy-E and the day Eazy-E died from complications related to AIDS. “That was my period with Eazy-E. That was the period I’m most proud of.”

3. He First Met Eazy-E in 1987 & Helped Finance Ruthless Records

Meeting Eric “Eazy-E” Wright in 1987 reinvigorated Heller, who was divorced and living with his parents at the time and working for Macola Records. He was also co-managing Dr. Dre and Ice Cube. According to The Telegraph, Eazy-E wanted Heller as a business partner and they co-founded Ruthless Records. Eazy-E contributed $7,000 to establish the label, while Heller put up $250,000.

“Eazy conceptualised, Dre musicalised, I financialised and Cube verbalised,” Heller told The Telegraph.

Heller also said in an interview with White Label Radio that Eazy was “like my flesh-and-blood son,” adding, “We did everything together. We lived next door to each other. Next to David Geffen, we built the biggest empire in the history of the music business.”

“I think that N.W.A picked up where Bobby Kennedy and Martin Luther King would have gone if they hadn’t been assassinated,” Heller told Grantland. “I think that they did more for race relations in this country than any other entity in history…They were incredible.”

Charis Henry, who was 18 when she became Eazy-E’s assistant, penned an essay for Billboard, recalling meeting Heller and her thoughts on him. She called him a “protector” who “looked out for” the artists under his wing.

4. Heller Blames Ice Cube’s Decision to Make a Solo Album Was What Broke Up N.W.A.

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Heller’s relationship with Ice Cube was the first to sour. Cube and Dre were seen as employees and they believed Heller was using a “divide and conquer” strategy. The two recorded diss tracks, publicly complaining about Heller’s business practices. Ice Cube’s “No Vaseline” is filled with references of Heller and included a line that N.W.A. “put a bullet in his temple/You can’t be the n***a for life crew with a white Jew telling you what to do.”

In an interview with Smashd last year, Heller blamed Ice Cube for starting to break up the group. He explained:

Cube said ‘I’m not taking this check,’ then ‘Let me have the check, I’m going to send it to my lawyer.’ You can’t have the check until you sign the contract. I said ‘Take the contract, show it to Lee Young, sign the contract, have him make your changes.’ He admits to that all the time. He says: ‘Jerry wouldn’t give me my check, he wouldn’t let me have the contract.’ That’s not true. I handed him the contract. And he took it to his lawyer. But he already made his decision to do his solo album. That’s what broke up N.W.A.

In that same interview, Heller suggested that Suge Knight “had something to do with” Eazy-E’s death and was involved in the deaths of Tupac Shakur and the Nororious B.I.G. “Pulled Tupac in front of him, that’s how he got the glass in his head. You don’t think the cops could have solved this if they wanted to? I think Suge got what he deserved,” Heller said.

5. Heller Told His Life Story in the 2006 Memoir ‘Ruthless: A Memoir’

In 2006, Heller wrote Ruthless: A Memoir with Gil Reavill, in which he first talked about events in his career that he had been silent on.

This included the FBI letter about “Fuck tha Police.” The letter was written by Milt Ahlerich, who Heller said only claimed to represent the entire bureau. He also suggested that Ice Cube didn’t understand finances, but he didn’t think that Ice Cube was anti-Semitic.

In a Rolling Stone interview last year, he said that Ice Cube hasn’t been fair to him:

I had no idea how it was going to come out. Ice Cube has never been real fair on the things that he said to me. All you have to do is listen to “No Vaseline,” and you see where he’s coming from. I call the movie revisionist history, like something invented by Joe Stalin, just saying whatever you want. Well, I don’t think that you can do that. I’m just not a victim.