Michael Jackson, Ola Ray (photo: MCA/Universal / Courtesy: Everett Collection)
Ola Ray, the female lead in his iconic 1983 "Thriller" video, still can't forget the experience of working with him.
Ray -- now 51 and living in Sacramento, Calif., with her teenage 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 racy past. "He seemed taken by the fact that I was a Playboy model," Ray told the Sunday Mirror.
The 13-minute horror short -- which the Guinness Book of World Records calls the most successful music video of all time, selling more than 9 million copies -- depicts the two on a date. It takes a very dark turn when the singer transforms into a werewolf.
From day one, Ray said she and Jackson had chemistry.
Ola Ray on ABC News.
Jackson was 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.
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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.
Ola Ray in "Playboy."
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 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."
The two had some drama: In 2009, a month before he died, she sued his estate for unpaid royalties (they ended up reaching a settlement in May 2012).
Ola Ray talking to reporters after Michael Jackson's death.
Ultimately, Jackson left an indelible mark on her life
"I have a huge poster of Michael, just of himself and then I have the 25th Anniversary album," she said in the ABC News interview. "Then, I have a picture of us walking together in the video … I see Michael every morning when I wake up."
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- Michael Jackson