Paul Giamatti portrayed the music industry vet, who died Friday in California, in 'Straight Outta Compton'
Heller was involved in a “serious traffic collision” on Friday morning in California, according to a statement from Ventura County Police Department. An early investigation suggested a medical emergency caused him to crash his Lincoln sedan into the back of a mini-van, after which he was taken to Los Robles Hospital to treat his injuries.
His cousin, Gary Ballen, confirmed to Billboard that Heller passed away that night after a heart attack.
Heller started in the music business as an agent and promoter in the 1960s and ’70s, working with artists and bands including Creedence Clearwater Revival, Marvin Gaye, The Who, and Black Sabbath. He co-founded Ruthless Records in the ’80s with rapper Eazy-E. The label would later release N.W.A’s first single, “Panic Zone,” when the group formed with Dr. Dre, Ice Cube, and Arabian Prince.
Heller served four years as manager for N.W.A, though Ice Cube famously quit the group over a royalties dispute with Heller, who became the subject of the rapper’s diss track “No Vaseline.” Heller released a book in 2006 called Ruthless: A Memoir as a means of explaining his side of the story.
In 2015, he was portrayed by Paul Giamatti in F. Gary Gray’s N.W.A biopic Straight Outta Compton and sued the filmmakers for his unflattering portrayal, citing defamation.
“As for the things that bothered me, I’ve been in the business for six decades. I’ve probably represented almost every major artist in the world, either directly or peripherally, at one time or another,” he told Rolling Stone of the suit in an interview. “I have a certain reputation, and that reputation certainly doesn’t entail the things that they said about me. It was very hurtful. I thought ‘No Vaseline’ was hurtful. But actually, this was more hurtful.”