Jerry Heller, co-founder of the seminal rap label Ruthless Records and former manager of rap group N.W.A, has died at 75.
TMZ reports that Heller died after suffering a medical emergency while driving in Ventura County on Friday morning. He allegedly slammed into a minivan and was taken to the hospital with serious injuries. It's unclear if he died from the medical emergency, the collision or both.
Heller, who was portrayed by Paul Giamatti in the N.W.A biopic Straight Outta Compton, was a polarizing figure in the N.W.A story.
N.W.A (Niggaz With Attitude) was formed in 1986, with Eazy-E and Dre joining up with C.I.A.’s Ice Cube and Arabian Prince; a year later, in 1987, Ruthless released the group’s first single, “Panic Zone.” By the release of 1988’s Straight Outta Compton, MC Ren and DJ Yella would join N.W.A, which was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 2015.
Rolling Stone reports that Heller served as N.W.A’s manager for four years, although the group began to disintegrate in 1989 after Ice Cube quit over royalty disputes with Heller, resulting in the rapper’s scathing diss track “No Vaseline.” By 1991, Dr. Dre would ditch Ruthless for Death Row and skewer Heller in the video for his “Dre Day.” However, Heller and Eazy-E’s partnership continued until the rapper’s death from AIDS in 1995.
Heller filed a $110 million defamation lawsuit against the producers of Straight Outta Compton for his portrayal in the film that was still in litigation at the time of his death.