NWA Manager Jerry Heller Dies At 75
Photo credit: Elizabeth Fried
NWA Manager Jerry Heller Dies At 75
(Los Angeles, CA)—Jerry Heller, the music executive famous for managing the legendary rap group NWA, passed away on September 2, 2016.
He was 75 years old.
Together, with the late rapper Eric “Eazy-E” Wright, the two formed Ruthless Records.
With Heller and Wright as equal partners, Ruthless became the first entirely black-owned record company to release gold, platinum and multi-platinum rap albums.
Eazy-E was the founding member of the group NWA, which rose to fame with members Dr. Dre (Andre Young), DJ Ren (Lorenzo Patterson), DJ Yella (Antoine Carraby), and Ice Cube (O’Shea Jackson).
NWA became famous after the release of their highly publicized 1988 album, Straight Outta Compton. It was followed by the release of Wright’s debut solo album, Eazy-Duz-It.
Compton was now an international household name.
In addition to NWA and Eazy-E, among the labels’ many other artists, were HWA and the Grammy-winning Bone Thugs-N-Harmony.
Ruthless also signed Will I Am. The group Will formed was signed to the the label by Jerry Heller’s nephew, Terry Heller.
Tragically, their completed album was never released by Ruthless, because of Wright’s death.
Three years later, Will I Am achieved fame with his group, the Black Eyed Peas, when they were released by Interscope Records.
The success of Ruthless Records inspired fans around the world, spawning the careers of future artists.
Heller often referred to NWA’s Straight Outta Compton, as “the most important albums of the twentieth century.”
Music industry executive Irving Azoff, who represents major artists including the Eagles, knew Heller for decades.
Despite his many accomplishments, Azoff is most known for managing the Eagles, for more than 40 years.
For the last three years, Azoff has also served as CEO of Azoff MSG Entertainment, a business enterprise with Madison Square Garden.
Azoff previously served as the CEO and Chairman of Ticketmaster Entertainment, and was executive chairman of Live Nation Entertainment.
With one of the most enviable resumes in the music business, his credentials seem endless.
In a statement for this story, Azoff stated of Heller’s death, “Jerry was an incredible talent. And it was unfortunately often unappreciated talent.”
Added Azoff, “Jerry reinvented himself, over and over, and he was always on the cutting edge.”
Azoff reflected, “Jerry, more than anyone, taught me to care about my artists.”
As far as Heller’s detractors, Azoff stated, “As can be expected in Hollywood, and especially, in the rap business, there is a lot of acting going on.
“I knew Jerry, as well as anyone. Many unfairly maligned him. I know the Hollywood version was not true. The negative depiction of him was entirely fictional. However, those that really knew him, know otherwise.”
Rumors were always swirling about Heller.
Because of his fame, Heller was a public figure. Therefore, he had little, if any control of the many fictitious claims made about him.
At the time of his death, Heller was involved in a lawsuit that he filed last October, in response to the fictionalized characterization of him, which was played by Paul Giamatti, in the 2015 theatrical release, “Straight Outta Compton.”
In real life, however, no financial indiscretions were ever found, or proven to exist when it came to Ruthless Records or Jerry Heller.
Nor did any artists ever sue Heller during his long career.
Although every major label had turned down signing NWA, and the group had sold only a few copies, Heller was so committed to Wright, and so solidified in his own faith when it came to the group’s talents, that he even took on the risk of taking a mortgage out on his home, in order to finance NWA’s first tour.
Drama soon followed, which included a letter from the FBI, criticizing NWA’s lyrics, which strongly addressed inappropriate treatment of young black males by police officers.
In 1989, NWA publicist Phyllis Pollack and longtime music critic Dave Marsh penned a highly publicized cover story in the Village Voice, which attacked the FBI’s letter that threatened the constitutionally protected lyrics of the group.
The resulting publicity drew even more attention to NWA.
Oprah Winfrey even dedicated an entire episode of the Oprah Winfrey show to discuss the article.
Heller brought in attorneys to defend the First Amendment rights of his artists.
Clearly to all who knew Jerry Heller, Eazy-E was like a son to him. Heller, himself, often used that terminology.
After the demise of NWA, Dr. Dre produced a stable of successful artists, including Snoop Dogg and Eminem.
With his branding of the Beats Pill by Dr. Dre, he became hip-hop’s first billionaire.
Cube focused on predominately Hollywood comedy-based films.
Prior to working with NWA, Heller worked as a booking agent, and he managed artists.
It was Heller that first brought the multi-Grammy-winning artist Elton John to the United States, when he booked the British singer to perform his legendary American debut gig at the Troubadour in Los Angeles, in 1970.
Working as a booking agent and manager, Heller represented a roster of artists that also included Pink Floyd, Crosby, Stills, Nash and Young, Creedence Clearwater Revival, The Who, The Grass Roots, Journey, the late artists Marvin Gaye and Otis Redding, among many others.
Born in Shaker Heights, Ohio, after graduating high school, Heller moved to Los Angeles, and worked his way up in the music business.
Heller’s autobiography, “Ruthless: A Memoir,” was published in 2006, by Simon & Schuster-Simon Spotlight Entertainment.
Heller suffered a fatal heart attack, while driving. He was taken to Los Robles Hospital in Thousand Oaks, where he soon died.
Survivors include his cousin Gary Ballen, Kenneth Heller, Jerry’s younger brother and father of Jerry’s nephew, Terry Heller, who is a restaurateur and real estate investor.
Terry Heller said of his famous uncle, “To the world, they lost a legend. I lost a best friend.”
Terry noted that Heller “loved Eazy like a son.”
Heller was surrounded by family as he passed away.
Heller spent his final moments in the hospital, doing what he loved most, listening to Eazy-E’s music.
Terry Heller brought the tracks.
Playing “Eazy-Duz-It,” “We Want Eazy,” “Still Talkin,” and “Boyz-N-the Hood,” was a final goodbye to a man that was loved by so many fans, and by so many people in the music business.
Donations in memory of Jerry Heller may be sent to the Grammy Foundation’s MusiCares.
Photos and interview opportunities are available.
Media contact: Phyllis Pollack 9242 Wystone Ave Northridge, CA 91324