The tragic story of the only man to play Michael Jackson on screen

28 August 2018, 16:05

Wylie Draper as Michael Jackson
Picture: ABC/Getty

By Tom Eames

For such an iconic star, would anyone ever be brave enough to play him?

Joseph Fiennes was due to play Michael Jackson in a controversial episode of Urban Myths, but the project was never aired after a backlash online.

Rogue One actor Diego Luna played him in the 2007 film Mister Lonely, but his character was actually a look-alike rather than Michael himself.

Donald Fullilove voiced a young Michael in the 1971 animated series Jackson 5ive, but what else?

There have only been two times that people have genuinely portrayed the adult Michael: in the 1992 TV movie The Jacksons: An American Dream, and its spiritual 2004 follow-up Man in the Mirror: The Michael Jackson Story, starring Flex Alexander.

The Jacksons starred three actors – Alex Burrall, Jason Weaver and Wylie Draper – as Michael at different ages, with Draper portraying a grown-up Michael.

And 38 million people watched it at the time.

Wylie Draper nailed the performance, including the iconic Moonwalk at the Motown 25 performance of 'Billie Jean'. But what did he do next?

Draper started dancing at a young age, and appeared at local skating rinks in West Virginia with his brother Desmond. After graduating from college, he worked as a dancer at Disney World, before auditioning to play Michael in the 1992 film.

Although he received positive reviews and an Emmy award, he sadly didn't land many film or TV offers. He also had a small role in The Disappearance of Christina, but not much else.

He was however hired by Michael himself to dance in the video for 'Remember the Time'.

Wylie Draper as Michael Jackson
Wylie Draper as Michael Jackson. Picture: ABC

Tragically, in 1993, Wylie was diagnosed with a rare form of leukaemia, and he died on December 20 in Los Angeles at the age of 24, with little media coverage at the time.

A year after his death, his family established The Wylie Draper Foundation in celebration of his life. Its website states that the WDF supports young artists through an annual memorial scholarship in Wylie's memory. It also raises awareness for bone-marrow donation, especially in the African-American community.

We might not have been able to see what else Wylie Draper could have achieved, but his biggest role was truly excellent, and all Michael Jackson fans out there should watch it in tribute to both men.