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Heller in 2004
|Born||Gerald Elliot Heller
October 6, 1940
Cleveland, Ohio, U.S.
|Died||September 2, 2016
Thousand Oaks, California, U.S.
|Cause of death||Heart attack|
Gerald Elliot "Jerry" Heller (October 6, 1940 – September 2, 2016) was an American music manager and businessman. He was best known for managing West Coast rap supergroup and gangsta rap pioneers N.W.A and Eazy-E. He rose to prominence in the 1960s and '70s, importing Elton John and Pink Floyd for their first major American tours, and representing Journey, Marvin Gaye, Van Morrison, War, Eric Burdon, Crosby Stills and Nash, Ike & Tina Turner, Creedence Clearwater Revival, Otis Redding, The Who, REO Speedwagon, Black Sabbath, Humble Pie, Styx, The Grass Roots and The Standells, among many others.
Heller played a role in the emergence of West Coast rap music when he cofounded Ruthless Records with Eazy-E and discovered, signed or managed the likes of N.W.A, The Black Eyed Peas, Above the Law, The D.O.C. and Bone Thugs-N-Harmony.
Early life and education
Born to a Jewish family in Cleveland, Ohio, Heller served in the United States Army and attended college at University of Southern California, Heller started working in the agency business in 1963. After working at Coast Artists, Associated Booking and the Chartwell, he opened the Heller-Fischel Agency in Beverly Hills, California which grossed $1.9 million during its first year, $3.7 million the second, $5.8 the third, and over $7 million its fourth year of operation representing rock stars The Who, Grand Funk Railroad, Black Sabbath, Humble Pie, and Black Oak Arkansas as well as writers at the time Carly Simon, Van Morrison, and Cat Stevens. He later bought out partner Don Fischel who went on to package independent TV productions. Heller believed that a key factor in keeping acts working between or after a hit record was to not be greedy and package his own clients together, but tour them in salable packages with other headline acts that were clients of other agencies.
Starting in the mid-1980s, Heller represented rap musicians as the genre became popular with the record-buying U.S. public. His work with Ruthless Records and with Eazy-E formed the foundation for the successes of Priority Records and Interscope Records. To date, Ruthless Records has sold in excess of 110 million records, not counting singles. The label included artists and producers such as Dr. Dre, whose careers Heller helped establish, and sold millions of records for Interscope Records, Priority Records, Atlantic Records, MCA Records, and Sony Records. At the time of Eazy-E's death, and Heller's departure from Ruthless Records, the company was generating revenue in excess of $10 million per month.
Managing the rise of West Coast Rap
In the 1980s, Heller began managing acts on the nascent Los Angeles hip hop scene, many of whom recorded for the now defunct Macola Records in Hollywood. He managed both C.I.A., which Ice Cube was a member of, and the World Class Wreckin' Cru, which included Dr. Dre and DJ Yella. On March 3, 1987, he met Compton, California rapper Eazy-E, and the two became co-founders of Ruthless Records. Under the direction of Heller and Eazy, Ruthless Records had six platinum releases in three years: Supersonic (J. J. Fad), Eazy-Duz-It (Eazy-E), Straight Outta Compton (N.W.A), No One Can Do It Better (The D.O.C.), Michel'le's self-titled debut, and Niggaz4Life (N.W.A).
Death Row Records and Jewish Defense League
During Dr. Dre’s departure from Ruthless Records, Heller and Ruthless director of business affairs Mike Klein sought assistance from the Jewish Defense League (JDL). The JDL offered to provide bodyguards to Eazy-E when Suge Knight allegedly threatened him in the early 1990s. The presence of bodyguards provided Ruthless Records with muscle to enter into negotiations with Knight over Dr. Dre’s departure.
The Federal Bureau of Investigation launched a money laundering investigation, assuming that the JDL was extorting money from Ruthless Records. JDL spokesperson Irv Rubin issued a press release stating, "There was nothing but a close, tight relationship" between Eazy-E and the League.
Heller explained that JDL’s involvement with Ruthless was for more reasons than the FBI investigation. Heller claimed Eazy-E received death threats and it was discovered that he was on a Nazi skinhead hit list. Heller speculated that placement on the hit list might have been because of N.W.A's song "Fuck tha Police." Heller said, "It was no secret that in the aftermath of the Suge Knight shakedown incident where Eazy was forced to sign over Dr. Dre, Michel'le, and The D.O.C., that Ruthless was protected by Israeli trained/connected security forces." Heller has maintained that Eazy-E admired the JDL for their slogan "Never Again" and that he had plans to make a movie about the group.
N.W.A broke up in 1991, with Ice Cube and Dr. Dre departing and aiming criticism at Heller and Eazy in diss tracks. Both Ice Cube and Dre accused Heller of breaking up N.W.A with the way he managed the group. Dr. Dre later recalled: "The split came when Jerry Heller got involved. He played the divide and conquer game. Instead of taking care of everybody, he picked one nigga to take care of and that was Eazy. And Eazy was like, 'I'm taken care of, so fuck it'." Ice Cube, in his diss track "No Vaseline", accused Eazy of being too much under Heller's influence and both of them exploiting the rest of the group: "Eazy E-turned-faggot/With your manager, fella/fuckin' MC Ren, Dr. Dre, and Yella". Also, "It's a case of divide and conquer, 'cause you let a Jew break up my crew" and "house nigga gotta run and hide, yellin' Compton but you moved to Riverside." He married Gayle Steiner in 1996. They divorced in 2014.
Heller's memoir, Ruthless: A Memoir, written with Gil Reavill, was published by Simon & Schuster/Simon Spotlight Entertainment in 2006. In the work, Heller addressed many events that he had previously remained silent on.
With regards to the FBI letter sent after the NWA song "Fuck tha Police," Heller wrote that the letter was actually a rogue action by a "single pissed-off bureaucrat with a bully pulpit" named Milt Ahlerich, who was falsely purporting to represent the FBI as a whole and that the action "earned him a transfer to the Bureau's backwater Hartford office". He also wrote that he removed all sensitive documents from the office of Ruthless Records in case of an FBI raid.
He denied the accusations of financial impropriety. In particular, he wrote that Ice Cube didn't understand finances, and subsequently failed to pay producers and writers on his own record label. He claimed that the 20% that he took of earnings was lower than the 25% that became standard at Lench Mob Records. Of the song "No Vaseline", Heller wrote that he didn't believe that Ice Cube was genuinely anti-Semitic and was nothing but "pro-Ice Cube", but had exploited prejudices in the Afro-American community to help his career.
He claimed that the deathbed letter from Eazy-E was a forgery: "Eric would never have put out a letter that was that corny." Heller wrote that Eazy-E had eight children and not seven as the letter stated.
Of the Dee Barnes incident, in which she was beaten by Dr. Dre in the midst of the feud between Ice Cube and the remaining members of N.W.A, Heller called the incident "disgraceful" and that he was "left to clean up the mess". Heller said that Dr. Dre was generally non-violent and mild-mannered, but had drunk too much on the night.
In a 2013 interview, on the Murder Master Music Show, Heller said that Eazy-E had planned on killing Suge Knight, but Heller was able to talk Eazy out of it. Heller said he was in his office when Eazy-E told him, “You know this guy Suge Knight? Well, I’m gonna kill him… This guy’s gonna be a problem, and I’m gonna kill him.” Heller said that he told Eazy it didn't make sense to kill Knight and it wouldn't be worth the risk, citing that Ruthless Records was the most successful startup record company ever, making $10 million a month with only 6 employees and, as Heller put it, "not even having a typewriter in their office." Heller said that, given everything that had transpired afterward, he regrets talking Eazy out of it. "You know something? I should have let him kill him. I would have done the world a favor. He would have done it for sure by himself. He always rolled by himself and he was fearless. I think that he was going to go do it. I took him seriously. He was right and I was wrong."
Straight Outta Compton lawsuit
In October 2015, Heller filed a lawsuit against several members of N.W.A, NBCUniversal and others involved in the production of Straight Outta Compton. He has also filed lawsuits against rappers Dr. Dre and Ice Cube. The lawsuit claims "the film is littered with false statements that harm the reputation of (Heller) and aim to ridicule and lower him in the opinion of the community and to deter third persons from associating or dealing with him." Producers for the film, which included Ice Cube and Dr. Dre, filed a countersuit in February 2016 to have portions of the Heller suit thrown out. In June 2016, U.S. District Judge Michael Fitzgerald dismissed nearly all of Heller's lawsuit, but agreed to allow one key claim to continue. Despite Heller's death in September 2016, his attorney Mickey Shapiro has indicated the lawsuit will continue.
Heller, who had a history of heart problems and diabetes, was driving on September 2, 2016 when he suffered a heart attack, crashed his car, and later died at a hospital in Thousand Oaks, California. He was 75 years old.  Heller's lawyer would go on to blame the depiction of him in the film Straight Outta Compton as a contributing factor in his death, with TMZ stating the film placed him "under a tremendous amount of stress".
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- Jerry Heller, Gil Reavill, 2006. Ruthless: A Memoir. p. 178. Simon Spotlight Entertainment. ISBN 1-4169-1792-6
- "Eazy-E Wanted to Kill Suge Knight | Eazy-E| Suge Knight | Music". BET. 2013-05-13. Retrieved 2016-09-05.
- Coleman, Miriam (August 16, 2014). "Paul Giamatti Cast as Controversial Manager in N.W.A. Biopic". Rolling Stone. Retrieved 3 April 2015.
- "'Straight Outta Compton' Crew & Universal Sued For $110M By Ex-N.W.A Manager". Deadline Hollywood. 30 October 2015. Retrieved 31 October 2015.
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- Jerry Heller at the Internet Movie Database
- "Jerry Heller". Heeb. March 24, 2009
- KCAL9 (Co-Founder Of Ruthless Records Jerry Heller Discusses New Memoir)
- Ruthless A Memoir (Simon & Schuster)
- Hip Hop & Politics (Interview with Jerry Heller)
- XXL Magazine (Ruthless Records Co-Founder Jerry Heller Claims Eazy-E Had Plans To Kill Suge Knight)
- Vibe Magazine (13 Hip-Hop Conspiracy Theories)
- HipHop DX (Jerry Heller Claims He & Eazy-E Put The Source Magazine "In Business")
- Rolling Stone Magazine (The 10 Wildest Rap Beefs Of All Time)
- AntiMusic.com (N.W.A's Straight Outta Compton Turns 25)