By BBC/Evelyne Wareh
Jerry Heller, the music manager who helped take hip-hop group N.W.A. to the mainstream, has died at the age of 75. Heller helped launch Ruthless Records with rapper Eazy-E and managed N.W.A as they released their landmark debut album Straight Outta Compton in 1988.
But he fell out with members Dr Dre and Ice Cube, who accused him of swindling them out of royalties, which he denied. Heller sued the makers of last year’s N.W.A biopic Straight Outta Compton, saying it portrayed him as a villain.
He was played by Paul Giamatti in the Oscar-nominated film.
Heller started his career as a booking agent for acts like Elton John, Van Morrison, Marvin Gaye and Pink Floyd before going into partnership with Eazy E. He gained a reputation for being combative but claimed he was “always squarely in the camp of the little guy, the underdog, the artist”.
His cousin Gary Ballen told the Los Angeles Times: “He was a visionary. He knew that this rap thing was going to happen before anybody else did.” Eazy-E’s former assistant Charis Henry told Billboard Heller was “very menacing and very intimidating” at first.
She said: “Jerry was not a perfect man. But he wasn’t a bad person. Without his experience and tenacity, Ruthless – I don’t think it would be what it was without him.” Heller was hurt by the biopic, she said, adding: “He was hurt how he seemed to be villainised, he was hurt by the inconsistencies that he felt were portrayed.” Mr Ballen told the AP news agency: “It made him look bad, like he stole money from [Eazy] or something, which never happened.
“They just rewrote history. And because of that, he had this lawsuit and it’s been going on and on. It really stressed him out having to deal with all this stuff.” Mr Ballen said Heller died in hospital in California after suffering a heart attack.