Michael Jackson’s “Thriller” video broke all kinds of records nearly 40 years ago. It was the first music video directed by a Hollywood director (John Landis), it was the title track on the highest-selling album of all time, and it cost a half-million dollars, an unheard-of amount for a music video at the time. But all of this didn’t matter to the video’s co-star, Ola Ray, who was just happy to get the part.
Ray, now 60 and living in Sacramento, California with her daughter, landed the gig after Flashdance actress Jennifer Beals turned it down. She almost didn’t get it after video director John Landis learned she had posed in a 1980 Playboy centerfold. But Jackson didn’t seem to mind her naked past. “He seemed taken by the fact that I was a Playboy model,” Ray said in a 2014 interview.
“The minute I walked into the audition, I knew the part was mine,” she revealed. “I read a few lines, danced to some music, and the rest is history.”
The 13-minute music and dance masterpiece–which the Guinness Book of World Records calls the most successful music video of all time, selling more than 9 million copies–depicts Jackson and Ray on a date. It takes a dark turn when the singer transforms into a werewolf and Ray is seen running from him and screaming the remainder of the video.
But despite her on-screen persona trying to get away from Jackson, from day one shooting, Ray said she and Jackson had great chemistry.
“When we did the dancing, when he had to walk around me and flirt with me … That was when I was like ‘Oh my God, like Ola, I could not believe I was the girl, I was the one chosen,'” she told ABC News.
Jackson was just as playful off-camera as well.
“He kept saying, ‘I can’t wait until I do the werewolf scenes so I can chase you,'” she told author Mark Bego for his book On The Road With Michael.
Though the two flirted and shared some private time in his trailer on the set, she said they were never intimate because Jackson had eyes for someone else.
“We had a working relationship, it was nothing other than that,” she said in a 2011 interview.
She and Jackson remained friends after making the video. Jackson even flew her to Germany to accept an award for “Thriller” — which she later got to keep.
“He wanted to send someone else to come pick it up [from me], but I told him, ‘No. If you don’t come pick it up yourself, then you’re not going to get it,'” said Ray, who went on to land small roles in 48 Hours, Beverly Hills Cop II, Gimme A Break! and Cheers. “He didn’t come get it, so he called and told me it was mine. I could keep it.”
In 1992, Ray was charged with cocaine possession, which earned her a stint in rehab.
Jackson helped her out with money from time to time, cutting her checks for…