Why Michael Jackson Denounced ‘Thriller’ and Almost Destroyed Its Video

Thriller” remains one of Michael Jackson’s most popular songs and music videos — however, not everyone was a fan. After dealing with some backlash to the video, Jackson wanted to destroy it. Here’s why the “Thriller” video upset some people in Jackson’s life — and why he ultimately didn’t destroy it.

A child wearing a SpongeBob SquarePants hat holding a copy of Thriller
A child holding a copy of Thriller | David McNew/Getty Images

How creating ‘Thriller’ was an act of rebellion for Michael Jackson

First, some background. According to Spin, Jackson had some strong religious beliefs. Jackson was one of the most famous Jehovah’s Witnesses to ever live — not that he was always in the church’s good standing.

Spin reports the album Thriller was a bit of a rebellion against the attitudes of Jehovah’s Witnesses, as it mentions sex, gangs, children conceived out of wedlock, and the occult. The video for “Thriller” especially upset the group. According to BuzzFeed, they nearly excommunicated him due to the video’s use of occult images. This is especially interesting as the “Thriller” video is not particularly violent or disturbing, even by the standards of 1980s Hollywood.

“Thriller”

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How the King of Pop reacted to the backlash

Jackson’s reaction to the backlash was pointed. He almost had the footage of “Thriller” destroyed. However, the director of the video — John Landis — hid the canister with the footage in it so Jackson could not find it. Ultimately, Jackson decided not to destroy the footage — but he still had negative things to say about it. According to The New York Times, Jackson denounced the video in an issue of Awake!, a Jehovah’s Witnesses publication.

”I realize now it was not a good idea,” Jackson said. ”I’ll never do a video like that again. There’s been all kinds of promotional stuff being produced on ‘Thriller,’ but I tell them, ‘No, No, No.’ I don’t want to do anything on ‘Thriller.’ No more ‘Thriller.”’

Michael Jackson holding a microphone
Michael Jackson | Kevin Mazur/WireImage

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According to Rolling Stone, if you watch the “Thriller” video today, you are watching a slightly modified version of it created in response to the Jehovah’s Witnesses controversy. The video now has the disclaimer “Due to my strong personal convictions, I wish to stress that this film in no way endorses a belief in the occult.” Those personal convictions would not last forever.

When Michael Jackson left the Jehovah’s Witnesses

“Thriller” remained part of Jackson’s life but the Jehovah’s Witnesses would not. The Los Angeles Times reports Jackson left the group in 1987. The Jehovah’s Witnesses did not give a reason for his departure. Neither Jackson nor his manager, Frank Dileo, were willing to discuss the matter. 

Michael Jackson wearing a hat
Michael Jackson | Kevin Mazur/WireImage

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Following Jackson’s decision to leave the Jehovah’s Witnesses, occult imagery became part of his work again. His song “Ghosts” is full of such imagery. Its music video features numerous horror elements, from creatures of the night to references to Frankenstein to a screenplay by none other than Stephen King. It’s not clear if Jackson would have made such a video if he remained a Jehovah’s Witness. After all, Jackson’s occult inspired work remains popular –regardless of how the Jehovah’s Witnesses reacted to it.