Whatever Happened To The Girl From Michael Jackson's Thriller Video?

Dancing zombies, Michael Jackson's choreography, and, of course, the song itself combined to make 1983's "Thriller" among the most iconic MTV music videos of all time. Thanks in no small part to that video, the song and album "Thriller" topped the charts, and the video alone went on to sell millions of copies on VHS. As anyone who has seen it knows, however, Jackson's not the only star of the show. Alongside the ghastly cast of characters is Ola Ray, Jackson's date.

The actress was born in St. Louis, Missouri, and began singing, dancing, and modeling in Tokyo, where her stepfather was stationed in the Air Force. By 1980, she was back in the U.S., where she modeled for Playboy Magazine, earning her work in advertising for Coca-Cola, McDonald's, and IBM before working on the "Thriller" music video. In a 2022 Newsweek interview, Ray recalled her "Thriller" audition with director John Landis, who said he needed a girl to play two different parts. "One would be a modern-day girl, the other would be a girl based in the 1950s," she said, "but we would have the same boyfriend. We would be sitting in a theater, watching ourselves on the big screen. Then once my boyfriend on the screen turned into a werewolf, it would make the modern-day girl afraid and want to leave the theater." Here's what happened to her.

Her Post-Thriller entertainment career wasn't easy

After Ola Ray's appearance in "Thriller," the June 1980 Playboy "Playmate of the Month" gained more work in movies and TV. Most notably, she appeared in the series "Cheers" (1985) and the film "Beverly Hills Cop II" (1987). Other credits include appearances in the 1984 TV shows "Automan" and "Gimme a Break!" as well as the movie Fear City" (1984) and "The Night Stalker" (1986).

But Ray told People Magazine in 2002 that her appearance in the "Thriller" music video didn't ensure an easy time in Hollywood (via I Love Old School Music). In particular, she said she resisted sexual harassment in the entertainment industry, so she didn't get cast. "After 'Thriller came along, I stopped working," she said, saying she refused to give "sexual favors." Terry Clark, the father of one of her children, somewhat disagreed. "I'm sure that has a little to do with it," he told People. "But what got her in trouble was not wanting to give up the party life."

She had mental health and substance use issues

Ola Ray told DailyMailTV in 2019 that she experienced substance use issues, domestic abuse, and depression in her post-"Thriller" life. By 1985, things got so bad for her that she tried to take her own life. "I couldn't pay my rent, I couldn't pay my bills so I got really depressed. I decided to take a bottle of pills and try to commit suicide," the performer said.

In 1992, less than a decade after "Thriller," she was arrested and charged with cocaine possession. She entered treatment in 1993. In a 2019 interview with Studio 10, she revealed she was kidnapped during this time period "and held under someone's house for a couple of months" before her captor let her out. As of her 2002 People interview, Ray said she was clean, and according to her website, she advocates "for domestic violence and drug addiction awareness." 

She struggled financially

In 2009, Ola Ray sued the King of Pop's estate for unpaid royalties shortly before Michael Jackson died. A $75,000 settlement came later, $20,000 of which went to her attorneys, according to TMZ. Her settlement was smaller than expected — she felt she was owed millions, per her contract. In 2019, Ray told DailyMailTV that she is still owed "millions" and lives under the poverty line. "How do they think they can just do this without paying me?" she asked. "These people are making millions of dollars out of me. Right now I'm living in a small one-bedroom apartment. My daughter and grandchildren also live here and it's been a struggle for us, so this is why it's really important that I keep fighting, my life shouldn't be like this."

At the time, Ray told the outlet she makes money off signing autographs at conventions. In 2023, she was a special guest at the "Son of Monsterpalooza" in California, where she celebrated the 40th anniversary of the "Thriller" video. As of 2023, Ray was active on Facebook and TikTok, where she posted positive affirmations and promoted her career.

If you or anyone you know needs help with addiction issues, help is available. Visit the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration website or contact SAMHSA's National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357).

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