Jerry Heller, Music Industry Veteran, Dies
Jerry Heller, who had a career in the music business for six decades, died in a hospital in Thousand Oaks, Calif., on Friday (Sept. 2). He was 75.
The Washington Post says that he had a heart attack while driving and crashed his car. It’s unknown whether he died of the heart attack or injuries sustained during the crash.
Born in in Cleveland in 1940, Heller went into the music business after a stint in the Army and earning a business degree from the University of Southern California. He ran the rock departments at two agencies — ABC and Chartwell — before launching his own, the Heller-Fischel Agency, in 1970. Billboard’s obituary says that he was an agent for Creedence Clearwater Revival and promoted the first U.S. tours by both Elton John and Pink Floyd. An article in the Nov. 6, 1971 issue of Billboard, which focuses on the emergence of smaller agencies like his, lists Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young (and their various iterations) and the Guess Who among his clients. It’s also been reported that he worked with Black Sabbath and the Who.
“I’ve been in the business for six decades,” he told Rolling Stone. “I’ve probably represented almost every major artist in the world, either directly or peripherally, at one time or another.”
In the mid-‘80s, however, he branched out into hip-hop and co-founded Ruthless Records with Eazy-E of N.W.A., whom Heller managed. Through their work together, West Coast gangsta rap flourished commercially and became controversial for the depictions of violence and misogyny in its lyrics. But he had a falling out with the band, in particular Ice Cube, over money.
In 2006, Heller wrote his autobiography, Ruthless: A Memoir. The book addressed many of the controversies surrounding his time with N.W.A. In the 2015 N.W.A. biopic, Straight Outta Compton, Heller was portrayed by Paul Giamatti. The depiction caused Heller to file a $110 million defamation lawsuit against the producers, but all-but one of Heller’s claims were dismissed.
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