LOS ANGELES (CelebrityAccess) — Veteran music manager Jerry Heller, who played a prominent role in the development of West Coast Rap, died Friday of a heart attack at Los Robles Hospital in Thousand Oaks. He was 75.
According to the Los Angeles Times, Heller's death was confirmed by his cousin Gary Ballen.
A native of Cleveland, Heller's first foray into the music world was on the touring side, booking and overseeing tours for artists such as Elton John, The Who, Pink Floyd and Marvin Gaye.
Following stints at Coastal Artists, Associated Booking, and Chartwell Artists, Heller partnered with Don Fischel to launch the Heller-Fischel Agency, which represented clients including The Guess Who, Grand Funk Railroad, Black Sabbath, Humble Pie, and Black Oak Arkansas as well as Carly Simon, Van Morrison, and Cat Stevens.
In the 1980s, Heller recognized the developing popularity of hip hop and began representing artists in the nascent West Coast Rap scene including Ice Cube, and Dr. Dre. In 1987 Heller and rapper Eric "Easy-E" Wright launched the influential label Ruthless Records that would serve as a launch pad for Easy E's rap group NWA and their debut studio album "Straight Outta Compton." The album proved to be a major hit, selling more than 3 million copies and helping to define the gangster rap sound.
“Gangsta rap was the most important movement since the beginning of rock ’n’ roll,” Heller told Los Angeles Times in 2001. "N.W.A were the first great rap audio documentarians of the problems in our inner cities.”
In 1991, NWA parted company Ice Cube and Dre later attributing much of the friction to Heller and accusing him of financial impropriety over royalty payments, which Heller later denied.
Following NWA' split, Heller remained in the music industry, focusing on Latino music but never managing to repeat his previous successes. In 2006, he published his memoir “Ruthless,” in which he attempted to address the criticism and allegations that had been made against him over the years.
Said criticisms were revived with the release of the hit NWA biopic 'Straight Outta Compton' in 2015. Heller, portrayed in the film by Paul Giamatti, was cast in an unfavorable light in the film and in October 2015, Heller filed a $110-million libel suit against Dr. Dre, Ice Cube, NBC Universal and others involved in the film, claiming that it was filled with inaccuracies.
Many of Heller's claims were dismissed by a judge in June, but the case remained unresolved at the time of Heller's death.
According to The Times, Heller is survived by his brother Ken Heller and nephew Terry Heller. – Staff Writers