Heller passed away last Friday evening at a hospital in Thousand Oaks, California. The official cause of death has not been released, but a relative of the manager stated that he had a heart attack while he was driving.
Though Heller worked with several famed performers throughout his career, perhaps his most noted professional relationship was with N.W.A. The group featured rappers Eazy-E, Dr. Dre and Ice Cube, amongst various other rappers that came and went, and was a major shaping force in the industry in the late 1980s.
Heller had first met up with Eazy-E to co-create Ruthless Records before launching N.W.A. into stardom. The group’s album Straight Outta Compton helped bring gangster rap to a more mainstream audience.
Last year, the Netflix movie Straight Outta Compton shed light on the story of N.W.A.’s formation and the controversial moments of their falling out. In the movie, Heller was portrayed by actor Paul Giamatti.
Unfortunately, Heller was very unhappy with his portrayal in the movie, which he claimed showed him as the bad guy for cheating the group out of money and making some poor career choices for them. He brought a lawsuit against the remaining members of N.W.A. (Eazy-E passed away in 1995 from AIDS) for $110 million in damages for libel. At the time of his death, the suit was unresolved.
Ice Cube spoke about Heller’s death and acknowledged their contentious relationship. “We’ve come a long way, and you know, the passing of Jerry Heller is a thing, that’s a part of life,” he stated. “We’re all going to definitely reflect on our time with Jerry, our ups and our downs.”
Controversy aside, there’s no doubt N.W.A. owes a good amount of their success to Heller, as well as some of their downfalls.