Jerry Heller Talks ‘Compton’ Lawsuit, ‘Very Hurtful’ Movie
Since its August release, Straight Outta Compton, the N.W.A biopic chronicling the rise and fall of the gangsta rap firebrands, has become the highest-grossing music biopic in history. Though the rags-to-riches story detailed the rise of Dr. Dre, Ice Cube and Eazy-E, it also depicted Jerry Heller, the group’s first manager and longtime nemesis, as the villain, extending a decades-long battle between Heller and the group.
Portrayed by Paul Giamatti in the film, the now-75-year-old served as the group’s manager from 1987 until the group fell apart in 1991. He also co-founded the group’s label, Ruthless Records, with Eazy-E, with whom he claims to have maintained a close friendship with until the rapper’s death in 1995. The film accuses Heller of sleazy business dealings previously detailed in Ice Cube’s scathing diss track “No Vaseline” and the depiction of a manager in Dr. Dre’s “Dre Day” video. In 2006, Heller released Ruthless: A Memoir to tell his side of the story and address certain accusations he claimed were untrue.
Straight Outta Compton, he now says, took these accusations to another level. Last week, Heller filed a lawsuit against Ice Cube, Dr. Dre and Eazy-E’s widow Tomica Woods-Wright, who all served as producers on the movie, director F. Gary Gray, the film’s screenwriters and NBC-Universal. The suit claims the film vilified him and wrongly made his business dealings look shady, claiming he withheld checks, dined on lobster brunches while the group members waited for final contracts and that Eazy-E fired him, among other instances.
Heller says none of this is true and is seeking $110 million in combined compensatory and punitive damages for defamation, copyright infringement, breach of contract and other charges. In the 55-page complaint, Heller alleges that he did not “authorize anyone to use his name” in the film and that the movie “is littered with false statements that harm [his] reputation … and deter third persons from associating or dealing with him.”
The former manager also claims that parts of the film were lifted from his book without permission and that select scenes violated a confidential settlement with Woods-Wright in 1999 barring either party from publicly disparaging the other. Heller spoke with Rolling Stone to explain why he felt he needed to sue.
When did you see the movie?
No one invited me to a screening before it came out, so I saw the movie like anyone else on August 15th. I took a date, and it cost me $42 to get in. So I saw it and lived with it for a while [before] talking to several lawyers. We got a copy of the movie and went over it frame-by-frame for four, five, six hours one evening. I just decided that I could not live with myself and not file this suit. While the movie was a powerful, well-done movie, it was dishonest. Most of it was inaccurate, or just out-and-out not true. So when I came to that conclusion with my lawyer, we decided to file a suit. That was just in the last couple of weeks.
Had you expected the movie to come out the way it did?
I had no idea how it was going to come out. Ice Cube has never been real fair on the things that he said to me. All you have to do is listen to “No Vaseline,” and you see where he’s coming from. I call the movie revisionist history, like something invented by Joe Stalin, just saying whatever you want. Well, I don’t think that you can do that. I’m just not a victim.
“Most of [the film] was inaccurate, or just out-and-out not true.”
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