B.B. King Estate Prepping Biopic Separate from Thrill Is On

Battling B.B. King biopic projects are no cause for the blues.

BB King Biopics
Photo: Getty Images

The late, legendary blues guitarist B.B. King was so influential, it’s going to take two biopics to tell the story. King’s estate is preparing a project separate from The Thrill Is On, which is set to star Wendell Pierce (The Wire, Selma), according to Variety.

“We want to be crystal clear that the film announced by Pierce is not a biopic, as there are several major players involved in the new B.B. King biopic and the estate does not want there to be any confusion as to the nature of each separate project,” Vassal Benford, chairman of King’s estate, told Variety. “One is a docudrama, and the other is the official B.B. King biopic approved by corporate management of the B.B. King estate and trust as a part of B.B. King’s legacy initiative.”

The Thrill Is On will tell the story about King’s friendship with his drummer Michael Zanetis. The estate hopes to clear up the confusion which began when Pierce announced his casting on social media.

“We are official,” Pierce wrote to Twitter on Oct. 19. “Preparation has begun on a film where I will be honored to play the great, BB King. Humbled.”

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Pierce clarified his announcement later in the week.

“The Estate of B.B. King has requested I clarify the film The Thrill Is On is not a biopic in the traditional sense,” Pierce tweeted on Oct. 22. “It is a dramatized version of a real-life friendship story in the spirit of the film Round Midnight.”

The Thrill Is On, which was co-written by Zanetis, tells “the inspiring true story of how a chance meeting between Zanetis, a young musician, and B.B. King in 1980 led to King being the first blues artist to receive a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame in 1990,” according to its advance press. It is not a retelling of King’s story.

“I am not qualified to write a biopic of Mr. King’s life, but this decade of his life is a chapter I lived with him,” Zanetis told Variety. “Our friendship flourished until our last visit in 2011.”

While The Thrill Is On has not been given the official endorsement by King’s estate, they do not disapprove of the film. This hasn’t always been the case. King’s representatives hit the film, which has been in production since 2009, with a cease-and-desist order in 2012. Pierce and Zanetis both said King approved them for the film before his death in 2015.

“As I stated before, and nothing has changed: I promised BB King before he died, I will honor him and his creative genius,” Pierce tweeted. “An American Icon.”

Benford, who says he believes Pierce “unintentionally misspoke” when the tweets caused confusion, says the estate respects the actor and had considered him to portray the blues legend. They also contemplated Saturday Night Live’s Kenan Thompson. The estate further revealed they are talking with a “major director” for the official film.

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Benford says the official biopic will go into the pre-production phase in 2021.