Jerry Heller, the early manager for N.W.A who worked with Eazy-E throughout the late rapper’s career and was an instrumental figure in the rise of Eazy’s Ruthless Records, died Sept. 2 at the age of 75. Here, Irving Azoff, chairman/CEO of Azoff Madison Square Garden Entertainment, remembers the man he knew for 45 years.
I’ve known Jerry Heller since 1971, when I first bought a Lee Michaels show from him in Des Moines, Iowa. In those days, there were some big-name agents around him — Frank Barsalona, Danny Weiner, Herb Spar — and he was great. He respected artists and their talent and would kill for them. That’s what I learned from him.
He was a very volatile guy — even crazy — but the Heller-Fischel Agency was very successful in its day. That’s where I worked for about a year, and Jerry, through his extreme behavior, f—ed it up. [Laughs] It did not surprise me at all when he resurfaced in the rap world.
I think he was unfairly portrayed [in the 2015 film Straight Outta Compton, which followed the career of N.W.A]. He was a confidant of Eazy-E, and if they had to take positions that were contrary to what [Dr.] Dre and Ice Cube wanted, that’s the way the business works.
The manager takes a lot of heat for the client when it’s necessary. I know he made a great contribution, he was a passionate guy, a visionary, and he bounced back many, many times. He loved the business until the day he died.