The Wire’s Wendell Pierce to play BB King in controversial biopic

“I promised BB King before he died, I will honour him and his creative genius. An American Icon.”

BB King / Wendell Pierce

Photos: Astrid Stawiarz / Getty Images / Tommaso Boddi / Film Magic

Actor Wendell Pierce has confirmed that he will portray the late blues legend BB King in the upcoming biopic The Thrill Is On.

Pierce – known for his roles as Detective Bunk Moreland in The Wire and James Greer in Jack Ryan – announced the casting decision himself on Twitter. “We are official,” Pierce revealed. “Preparation has begun on a film where I will be honoured to play the great, BB King. Humbled.”

In a separate tweet, he added, “I promised BB King before he died, I will honour him and his creative genius. An American Icon.”

The biopic centres on the relationship between King and Michael Zanetis – the musician, club owner and entrepreneur who helped King earn his star on the Hollywood Walk Of Fame. Zanetis himself is attached to the project as both a writer and producer.

The Thrill Is On was first announced back in 2011, under the title BB King And I. However, it was met with significant resistance from King himself. According to The Hollywood Reporter, a lawyer representing the guitarist filed a cease-and-desist order against King Size Films Productions, the studio working on the project at the time, back in July 2011. They claimed that the film violated the musician’s trademarks and publicity rights.

King Size Films responded by filing a lawsuit against King in 2012, alleging that he had been attempting to use his trademark and rights of publicity to halt production of the film. In the suit, Zanetis stated that he shared the script with King in 2006, and that the musician autographed its cover.

The case was dismissed a few months after it was filed, and production on the film was set aside. In 2015, King died at the age of 89 from congestive heart failure in his Las Vegas.

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