25 ‘Thriller’ facts
1. “Thriller,” the biggest-selling album ever, wasn’t the only Michael Jackson work released in November 1982. A few weeks before it was set to hit stores, MCA Records released an album of Jackson reading the story of “E.T.: The Extra-Terrestrial” and performing the original song “Someone in the Dark.” The album promotion, which featured posters of Jackson and E.T. looking very friendly, angered CBS Records, which felt it was stealing the thunder from “Thriller.” Lawsuits ensued. Both albums ended up winning Grammys the following year.
2. “Thriller’s” phenomenal success led to a breaking down of traditional racial barriers on FM radio at the time. New York’s WPLJ, a “white” station, played Jackson’s “Beat It” because of Eddie Van Halen’s appearance on it. The song caused a wave of protests from some listeners who didn’t want “black” music on their station. MTV also had a reputation for favoring white performers at the time, and its heavy rotation of Jackson videos helped alleviate the criticism.
3. The music video of “Thriller” played in a Westwood theater for one week in 1983 to qualify for an Oscar nomination. It opened for Disney’s “Fantasia,” much to the dismay of unsuspecting parents.
4. After the success of the “Thriller” video, a Hollywood production company began serious work on turning “Billie Jean” into a feature film. (In 1985, Helen Slater starred in the teenage drama “The Legend of Billie Jean,” although there is no connection.)
5. In 1984, the National Coalition on Television Violence classified more than half of 200 MTV videos surveyed as too violent, including the videos for Jackson’s “Thriller” and “Say, Say, Say.” Dr. Thomas Radecki, chairman of the coalition, was quoted as saying, “It’s not hard to imagine young viewers after seeing ‘Thriller’ saying, ‘Gee, if Michael Jackson can terrorize his girlfriend, why can’t I do it too?’ ”
6. Brooke Shields was Jackson’s date to the 1984 Grammys, when he won eight awards.
7. “Thriller” video makeup artist Rick Baker already had an Oscar on his resume. He won the award for best makeup in 1981 -- the first time the award was handed out -- for his work on “An American Werewolf in London.”
8. Baker actually appears in the video: He’s the zombie seen stumbling out of the mausoleum.
9. Dance choreographer Michael Peters also had a role as a zombie in “Thriller,” and shared a Tony Award with Michael Bennett for his choreography work on Broadway’s “Dreamgirls.” Before his death in 1994, he was an advocate of adding a choreography category to the Academy Awards.
10. Jackson’s girlfriend in the video, Ola Ray, was Playboy magazine’s Miss June in 1980, telling the publication that her favorite entertainers were “Michael Jackson, Donna Summer, Ben Vereen, Emry Thomas.” She also listed her turn-ons as “music, men, dancing and romancing, health and nature” and turnoffs as “waiting for something that never comes.”
11. Just as Van Halen’s guitar solo begins in “Beat It,” there’s a noise that sounds like someone knocking on a door. According to rock ‘n’ roll myth, the knock is someone walking into Van Halen’s studio. Another story claims it’s simply the sound of Van Halen knocking on his own guitar.
12. “Thriller’s” opening cut, “Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin’,” is also the longest track on the album, clocking in at over six minutes. The radio version, however, is about two minutes shorter.
13. The movie theater seen in the beginning of the video was also seen in director John Landis’ “The Kentucky Fried Movie.” The posters seen in the theater are for the movie “Schlock,” also directed by Landis.
14. Jackson’s disclaimer at the beginning of the video, in which he discounts any belief in the occult, was prompted by his status as a Jehovah’s Witness at the time.
15. The 1988 movie “Return of the Living Dead Part II” features a zombie dressed as Michael Jackson.
16. Forrest J. Ackerman, creator of Famous Monsters of Filmland magazine, can be seen sitting behind Jackson in the theater at the beginning of the video.
17. The video that popularized Jackson’s “Moonwalk,” 1983’s “Billie Jean,” was directed by Steve Barron, but it may not be the clip he’s best known for. That would be the live-action comic book treatment he gave to A-ha’s “Take on Me.”
18. The song “Thriller” was originally titled “Starlight.”
19. Producer Quincy Jones wanted “Billie Jean” to be titled “Not My Lover,” so people wouldn’t think the song was about Billie Jean King.
20. During the “Thriller” era, Jackson’s plastic surgery became noticeable. His face changed from the time the photo was taken for the album cover to the filming of the “Thriller” video.
21. Real gang members were brought it to be extras in the “Beat It” video.
22. Although “Wanna Be Startin’ Somethin’ ” was one of the biggest singles off “Thriller,” no video was ever made for the song.
23. The man who wrote the song “Thriller,” Rod Temperton, also wrote songs for Boyz II Men, Herbie Hancock, Karen Carpenter and Michael McDonald.
24. The “Thriller” album has sold more than 104 million copies.
25. At the height of the song’s popularity, MTV would run the 14-minute “Thriller” video twice an hour.
Inside the business of entertainment
The Wide Shot brings you news, analysis and insights on everything from streaming wars to production — and what it all means for the future.
You may occasionally receive promotional content from the Los Angeles Times.