B. B. King Biopic/The Thrill Is On

On October 25th, Variety disclosed that an official biopic of iconic blues musician B.B. King is going into pre-production in 2021, Vassal Benford, chairman of King’s estate, tells Variety. This is a separate project from The Thrill Is On, which is a drama about King’s friendship with drummer Michael Zanetis starring Wendell Pierce as King.

Confusion first arose when The Wire and Selma actor Pierce announced that he would play King via Twitter on Oct. 19 (2020). “We are official. Preparation has begun on a film where I will be honored to play the great B.B. King,” Pierce wrote. This led many to assume he would be playing King in a biopic retelling the late singer-guitarist’s life story.  Pierce expanded on the situation on Oct. 22, writing: “The Estate of B.B. King has requested I clarify the film The Thrill Is On is not a biopic in the traditional sense. It is a dramatized version of a real-life friendship story in the spirit of the film Round Midnight.”

B.B. King’s estate has clarified that there are two separate projects in the works concerning King — “The Thrill Is On,” which is not associated with the estate, and an upcoming biopic of King’s life, which is being produced by the estate. Though Benford says King’s estate has considered Pierce to play King in the biopic, they are looking at a number of other actors for the role, including “Saturday Night Live” star Kenan Thompson. A major director is also in talks to helm the upcoming biopic, according to the estate.  The official biopic is going into pre-production in 2021

“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.”

Though The Thrill Is On is not associated with or produced by King’s estate, Benford says that the estate does not disapprove of the film.  Benford told Variety, the estate wants it to be clear that the film announced by Pierce is not a biopic and the estate does not want there to be any confusion as to the nature of each separate project.  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.

In a statement previously released by representatives for The Thrill Is On, the project is described to be a “friendship film.” The movie 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.  The title is a play on one of King’s biggest hits, “The Thrill Is Gone.”

Pierce has been attached to star in the film produced and co-written by Zanetis since 2009, but the film — then titled “B.B. King and I” — ran into legal trouble in 2012 when Zanetis sued King after receiving a cease-and-desist order from King’s representatives.  However, both Pierce and Zanetis have said that King gave them his blessing to make the film before his death in 2015.

On October 29th, Variety wrote that four former members of B.B. King’s band — Walter Riley King, James “Boogaloo” Bolden, Michael Doster and Tony Coleman — will portray themselves in the The Thrill Is On.  “We’re honored to have these extraordinary musicians join us in our tribute to Mr. King. They traveled the world with him for decades and continue to keep his legacy alive,” stated Zanetis.

After serving in World War II, Riley B. King, better known as B.B. King, became a disc jockey in Memphis, Tennessee, where he was dubbed “the Beale Street Blues Boy.” That nickname was shortened to “B.B.” and the guitarist cut his first record in 1949. He spent the next several decades recording and touring, playing more than 300 shows a year. An artist of international renown, King worked with other musicians from rock, pop and country backgrounds. He released over 50 albums and won his 15th Grammy Award in 2009. King died in his sleep in Las Vegas in 2015, leaving behind an enduring musical legacy.  Source(s):  Variety; biography.com; Photo Source(s):  bluegr.com; igormiranda.com.