Warner Bros Pictures has acquired the life rights of iconic Philadelphia-born R&B singer-songwriter Teddy Pendergrass, a movie project that has Fast & Furious actor Tyrese Gibson set to star in the lead role.
Donald De Line (Ready Player One) will produce via his De Line Pictures studio banner, along with Lee Daniels (Empire, The Butler, Precious), and Gibson via his Voltron Pictures. The studio has also tapped Little Marvin (creator of Amazon’s upcoming event series Them) to pen the screenplay. Pendergrass’ widow, Joan Pendergrass, is an executive producer.
Born Theodore DeReese Pendergrass on March 26, 1950, Teddy was raised by Ida Geraldine Pendergrass, a single mother whose husband, Jesse, left the family while Teddy was a young child. Shortly after meeting his father for the first time, Jesse was stabbed to death in 1962 when Teddy was 11 years old.
In the early 1970s, Pendergrass rose to fame as the lead singer of Harold Melvin & The Blue Notes before skyrocketing to stardom as a solo artist, releasing four consecutive platinum albums between 1977-1981 (then a record for an African-American R&B artist). His work included numerous hits including his No. 1-selling R&B single “Close the Door.”
Working with his manager, the renowned Shep Gordon, Pendergrass’ massive popularity continued to escalate and by the end of the 80s, with the media calling his “The Black Elvis” — not only for his unprecedented crossover popularity, but also for the mansion similar to Elvis’ Graceland he built just outside his hometown of Philadelphia.
On March 18, 1982, while driving his Rolls Royce, Pendergrass lost control on Lincoln Drive in the East Falls section of Philadelphia, hitting a guard rail, crossing into opposing traffic and careening into two trees. He suffered a spinal cord injury that left him a quadriplegic, paralyzed from the chest down.
Suicidal after the accident, Pendergrass would struggle to come back from the tragedy with the help of an extraordinary psychiatrist — himself a paraplegic — to learn how to sing all over again with the help of a specialist. Three years later, on July 13, 1985, Pendergrass would make an emotional return to the stage at the historical Live Aid Concert at Wembley Stadium in London in front of 100,000 people and over 1.5 billion television viewers.
For the next two decades, he would continue his successful solo career until announcing his retirement in 2007, later establishing the Teddy Pendergrass Alliance to help those with spinal cord injuries. He died in 2010.
“I am honored to take this journey… this is the role that I feel I was born to play. Teddy Pendergrass embraced me and before he passed put the responsibility on my shoulders to tell his story,” Gibson saaid. “Being here in this time and in this space and moment with Lee Daniels, Donald De Line, Little Marvin and Warner Bros is an answered prayer. Teddy, I just hope we make you, your wife and family proud… Here we go!!”
Gibson, a multi Grammy-nominated singer, is currently shooting Black & Blue for Sony Screen Gems and will soon begin shooting Fast and the Furious 9. Gibson also recently recurred on Daniels’ Fox series Star. He also wrote and starred in director Paul Hunter’s Shame opposite Jennifer Hudson, which he produced with Denzel Washington. The film won ‘Best of Fest’ at the 2016 LA Film Shorts Festival.
Gibson’s sixth studio album, Black Rose, was released independently in 2015 by his label Voltron Recordz and distributed by Caroline Records. It debuted at No. 1 on the U.S. Billboard 200 and Top R&B/Hip-Hop Albums. Its single “Shame” was nominated for two Grammys and was No. 1 on the R&B charts for 16 weeks.
Gibson is represented by APA, Isabella Castro of Voltron Management, and John Tishbi of Pearlman & Tishbi, LLP