Gerald “Jerry” Heller, the N.W.A music manager played so memorably — and, to Heller himself, hurtfully – by Paul Giamatti in Straight Outta Compton, died Friday of a heart attack in California. He was 75.
His death and cause were confirmed to Billboard by Heller’s cousin Gary Ballen, who said Heller died Friday evening at Los Robles Hospital in Thousand Oaks. Early reports suggested Heller suffered a medical emergency while driving.
Heller, whose music biz career stretched back to involvement with such superstars of the 1960s and 70s as Marvin Gaye, Creedence Clearwater Revival and the Who, was so angered by what he claimed was defamation, misappropriation of likeness and copyright infringement that he sued Universal and the film’s producers for $110 million. Although a federal judge ruled in March that the lawsuit could proceed, most of the case was dismissed in June and likely will end entirely with Heller’s death.
The suit also named director F. Gary Gray, Legendary Pictures Funding, Dr. Dre and Ice Cube among the defendants.
The hip-hop biopic, which chronicled N.W.A and West Coast rap history from the mid-1980s to mid-’90s, won critical and audience raves, but Heller dismissed his acclaimed portrayal by Giamatti as being a “sleazy manager.” Though he and N.W.A cofounders Dre and Ice Cube had an acrimonious end, Heller and the group’s Eazy-E stayed friendly throughout Eazy’s life (he died of AIDS in 1995).
In 2006, Heller’s own version of his co-founding Ruthless Records with Eazy-E, was laid out in his 2006 book Ruthless: A Memoir.