One of the more intriguing characters this August’s surprise hit, Straight Outta Compton, is its nominal villain, Jerry Heller, played remarkably by Oscar nominee Paul Giamatti. In the wake of the movie’s opening, we’ve seen a number of profiles on the lives of those depicted — and left out of — Straight Outta Compton since the events in the movie, but less so on the film’s main antagonist.
What happened to Jerry Heller after he and Easy-E parted ways? The version of the story that you may want to hear based on what we know of Heller from the movie is that Ruthless Records and Eazy-E’s wife, Tomica Wright, sued him for financial impropriety, took him for everything he had, and left him alone and penniless.
That’s the fairy-tale version of events, but it’s not what actually happened, although Jerry Heller is alone now. According to a Grantland profile, he’s 74, and after divorcing his wife, Heller lives by himself in a house in Westlake Village, an upscale planned community outside of Los Angeles.
He’s doing just fine, and though he never found the kind of success he had with Ruthless Records again, he did continue to manage lesser known bands — mostly Hispanic rap groups — for an outfit called Hit-A-Lick records.
Mostly, though, it seems like he’s enjoying the life that his relationship with NWA and Ruthless Records affords him. He doesn’t seem to be that bitter, either, about the way he’s depicted in Straight Outta Compton. Most of the events in the film were well known within the music community long before the movie was released, and Heller wrote a memoir — Ruthless: A Memoir, which he originally wanted to call Ni**a 4 Life — that was released nearly ten years ago that tells his side of the story. What is his side of the story? Essentially, that he did nothing illegal; he did what he set out to do, which was to put NWA and Compton on the map; and that it was all business.
“It’s really a joke, in this day and age,” Heller told World Star Hip Hop earlier this year, “for people to think that you can steal money in the record business. It’s not possible.”
“Nobody ever sued,” he continued. “They were just using it as an excuse to say, ‘We got rid of the white guy.’”
He does, however, suggest that he and Eazy-E were very close until the end — like father and son, “flesh and blood” — and he agreed with the sentiment of others. whether true or not, that Eazy-E never spoke ill of him.
Moreover, according to Grantland, while he doesn’t have a relationship with Eazy-E’s widow and hasn’t seen DJ Yella or MC Ren since the 1990s, he says that he still sees Dre from time to time and that there’s no animosity between them. As for Cube, there was never much of a relationship to begin with. Both Heller and Cube are willing to put the past in the past. They’re not friendly, but they bear no ill will against one another.
However, earlier this year, Heller did suggest that the beef between the two stemmed from jealousy. Cube was jealous of Eazy-E’s relationship with Heller, in part, because Cube often felt like he didn’t belong. “He wasn’t really a street guy.” Cube went to a great school and still lived at home with his loving, supportive parents, Heller said.
Moreover, since the release of the film, Singer Michel’le — who used to date Dre — has also come out in defense of Heller in an interview with VladTV:
“I totally trusted Jerry because I saw how well he was taking care of everybody,” Michel’le said. “We were kids from the ghetto. We were young kids. To me, he took us and he embraced us… He gambled on us. Sometimes when you gamble and you spend a lot of money you gotta make what you want back. He took a big chance on us. We were driving 60-70,000 dollar cars from catching buses.”
Meanwhile, in a newly surfaced interview from 2013, Heller says that his biggest regret is talking Eazy-E out of killing Suge Knight. As Heller tells it, the scene in the movie in which Eazy-E said he was going to kill Knight is not that much different from reality (although, it took place in Heller’s office, and not in his yard).
“And you know something? I should’ve let him kill him,’ Heller said. “I would’ve done the world a favor. He would have done it, for sure. By himself.”
As for the conspiracy theory that recently resurfaced suggesting that Suge Knight murdered Eazy-E by injecting him with AIDS — a rumor that Suge Knight started — Heller wonders why that wasn’t investigated.
“I can’t believe that the FBI or somebody — I mean that show is all over YouTube,’ Heller opined. ‘He said ‘Ya kill ‘em. You inject ‘em. Eazy-E style.’ I mean, come on. Do they not care when an African American kills another African American? Do they not care? … If Eazy was murdered, if he was injected, why haven’t they solved it? You can’t tell me that people that can track down Osama bin Laden and kill him in Pakistan can’t find out who killed Biggie on Wilshire Boulevard coming out the fuckin’ Petersen Museum with fuckin’ cops there. Makes no sense.”
All of which is to say that, despite what’s depicted in the movie, for Jerry Heller, the years that he was with Eazy-E continue to remain the most important of his life. Though there was certainly some ugliness, he still considers N.W.A. and Ruthless Records the part of his legacy of which he’s most fond and — aside from not letting Eazy-E murder Suge Knight — he seemingly has no regrets.