‘Devastated’ Michael Jackson wanted Thriller video destroyed: The tapes had to be hidden

ByQuyen Anne

Mar 11, 2024

MICHAEL JACKSON attempted to have the Thriller music video destroyed just weeks before its world premiere. Video director John Landis said the star locked himself in his room for days without food and was found collapsed on the floor when the door was broken down.

From the red leather jacket to the werecat transformation and, of course, that zombie shoulder shuffle, The Thriller video remains the most famous and iconic of all time. Yet, MJ was genuinely desperate to have it destroyed before anyone could see it. The star had such an emotional breakdown over the situation, he barricaded himself away for days. But why? Legendary director Landid later revealed the dramas behind the scenes and another request from Michael he had to deny.

Landis’ involvement with the project makes sense since he had directed the big-screen musical caper Blue Brothers in 1980. But it was his next project, 1981’s An American Werewolf in London which captured Jackson’s attention.

Landis later said: “He was fascinated by the metamorphosis, by the transformation. He really wanted to turn himself into a monster, that was his desire he loved it… He wanted to turn into a werewolf on four feet, but I said, ‘Mike if you’re gonna dance it will be hard with four feet.’ We decided on a two-legged werewolf.”

What followed was the most ambitious and expensive music video ever made at that time, still regarded as a masterpiece today – but it almost never saw the light of day.

Michael Jackson tried to destroy the Thriller video

Michael Jackson Thriller video zombie dance

Excitement was high throughout the shoot, with major stars like Marlon Brando, Jackie Kennedy and Fred Astaire visiting the set. When it was finished, MTV was planning a major promotional campaign, while a world premiere was set for November 14, 1983, in front of a celebrity-studded audience including Diana Ross and Eddie Murphy.

But then disaster struck. Michael was a devout Jehovah’s Witness and the church leaders were attacking him over the subject matter of the video.

The stars’ lawyer, John Branca revealed Jackson called him and demanded all the negatives were destroyed: “He said the Jehovah’s Witnesses heard he was doing a werewolf video. They told him that it promoted demonology and they were going to excommunicate him.”

Michael Jackson: Thriller director John Landis and co-star Ola Ray

Everyone agreed the negatives needed to be protected so they were taken from the labs and locked securely away in Branca’s office.

Meanwhile, the distraught star had locked himself in his bedroom. He was dedicated to his church – famously even going doorstepping in a hat and fake moustache to canvas for new converts – but he also loved the Thriller video he had helped create.

Jackson’s security chief, Bill Bray, called Landis worried about his charge who hadn’t eaten for days.

The director described the sad and broken man he found when he arrived at Jackson’s Encino estate, Hayvenhurst House.

Landis said: “Bill and I kicked in the door, knocked it down, and Michael was lying there. He said, ‘I feel so bad.’ I said, ‘Michael, have you eaten?’ He hadn’t eaten. It was weird. I just said, ‘Look, I want you to see a doctor right now.’ ”

The following day, Landis went back to see the star to tell him they had not destroyed the negatives for Thriller.

The director described how the star was utterly conflicted about the project, torn between two things he loved: “(Michael said) ‘I’m sorry, John. I’m embarrassed.’

“I said, Michael, I wouldn’t let it be destroyed. He went, ‘Really? Because I think it’s really good.’ I go, ‘Michael, it’s great and you’re great.'”

Even so, MJ hid in the projectionist’s booth at the premiere and refused to come out, even when the cheering crowd demanded the whole video was immediately replayed.

The video went on to make history, smashing sales records for a video and also doubling the sales of the album itself.

However, Jackson insisted a disclaimer was shown along with the video which said: “Due to my strong personal convictions, I wish to stress that this film in no way endorses a belief in the occult.”

Later the star explained his actions: “I just intended to do a good, fun short film, not to purposely bring to the screen something to scare people or to do anything bad. I want to do what’s right. I would never do anything like that again.”

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