21 Thrilling Facts About Michael Jackson's Thriller

Epic
Epic

Michael Jackson's 1982 album Thriller needs no introduction, but here we are. It’s the all-time best-selling album worldwide. It was also critically acclaimed, bestowed with a record-breaking eight Grammy Awards. It launched Michael Jackson into superstardom, and the artist—and the music industry—were never the same again. Here are some facts about the album, in case you want to be startin' somethin'.

1. JACKSON WAS INSPIRED BY THE NUTCRACKER SUITE.

While he already had the popular solo album Off the Wall to his credit (also produced by Quincy Jones), Michael Jackson had a dream of making the biggest-selling album ever. He wanted Thriller to resemble Tchaikovsky’s suite, where “every song is a killer.”

2. HE TOLD HIS MUSICIANS TO THINK LIKE MICHELANGELO.

Keyboardist David Paich of Toto was one of the musicians hired for Thriller. He remembered Jackson telling the instrumentalists in the Westlake Recording studio in Los Angeles, California to think of “Michelangelo painting the Sistine Chapel—do whatever you need to do here. Sky's the limit."

3. THE ALBUM'S TITLE WAS ALMOST MIDNIGHT MAN.

Quincy Jones asked arranger/songwriter Rod Temperton to come up with an album title. He wrote down 200 to 300 possible titles in his hotel room before deciding on Midnight Man. The next morning he woke up and the word “Thriller” popped into his head. "Something in my head just said, this is the title," Temperton said. "You could visualize it on the top of the Billboard charts. You could see the merchandising for this one word, how it jumped off the page as 'Thriller.'"

4. THE SONG "THRILLER" WAS ORIGINALLY TITLED "STARLIGHT."

Temperton wrote the music and lyrics, with the chorus: “We got to make it while we can / You need the starlight / Some starlight sun / I need you by my side/ you give me starlight / Starlight / tonight.” Jones liked the melody, but asked Temperton to come back with something more like Edgar Allan Poe. The album title Thriller was already on the table, so matching it to the song was relatively easy.

5. VINCENT PRICE MADE LESS THAN $1000 FOR HIS WORK ON THE TITLE TRACK.

Jones’ then-wife Peggy Lipton knew Price. The horror movie legend managed to record his part in two takes. Once the album got big, Price expressed frustration over his meager paycheck and said that Jackson had stopped taking his calls.

6. JACKSON WAS SUED FOR "WANNA BE STARTIN’ SOMETHIN'."

Cameroon musician Manu Dibango recorded “Soul Makossa” in 1972. The song, sung in the Cameroonian language of Duala, elongated the phrase “mamako mamasa” as “ma ma ko/ma ma sa/ma ko ma ko sa.” Jackson changed it to “ma ma se/ma ma sa/ma ma ku sa,” but the similarity was obvious. A compensation arrangement was hammered out in an out-of-court settlement.

7. "BILLIE JEAN" WAS ABOUT ONE SPECIFIC GIRL.

Quincy Jones claimed that Jackson told him “Billie Jean” was based on a girl who climbed over his wall one morning and accused him of being the father of one of her twins. Jones wanted the singer to change the title to “Not My Lover” to avoid possible confusion with the song being about tennis player Billie Jean King.

8. "BILLIE JEAN" ALMOST KILLED MICHAEL.

In his autobiography, Jackson wrote about the time he was driving his Rolls-Royce down the Ventura Freeway during a recording session break. He was thinking about the song so much that he didn’t notice the bottom of his car was on fire. A kid on a motorcycle warned him in time.

9. JACKSON ADMITTED TO DARYL HALL THAT HE RIPPED OFF HALL & OATES.

As Hall remembers it, Jackson approached him during the “We Are the World” recording and admitted to cribbing the bass line from “I Can’t Go for That (No Can Do)” for “Billie Jean.”

10. “BILLIE JEAN” WAS MIXED 91 TIMES.

Quincy Jones then requested, "'Let's go back and listen to mix number two,'" recording engineer Bruce Swedien said. "And we did, and it blew us all away! I had overmixed that song right into the pooper, so the mix that went onto the record was mix number two."

11. "THE GIRL IS MINE" CAME FROM A REQUEST FROM QUINCY JONES.

Jackson revealed during testimony that successfully fought a plagiarism allegation that the producer directed him to write a song about two men fighting over a girl. He later woke up in the middle of the night and sang the song into a tape recorder. Jones also later requested he add the rap verse.

12. "BEAT IT" WAS INSPIRED BY "MY SHARONA."

Jones told The Telegraph he wanted a “black version” of The Knack song.

13. EDDIE VAN HALEN PLAYED THE GUITAR SOLO ON "BEAT IT."

He did it while the rest of his band, Van Halen, was out of town, not thinking anybody in the group would ever know.

14. "HUMAN NATURE" WAS DISCOVERED BECAUSE TOTO DIDN’T GO CASSETTE SHOPPING.

David Paich worked on demos for Jones to potentially use for Thriller, sending him cassettes virtually every day with songs. One day, his then-roommate and Toto bandmate Steve Porcaro was tasked with recording Paich’s demos onto a cassette. Porcaro reused one of his own tapes because they were out of blank cassettes. Jones didn’t like the two songs of Paich’s when he heard them, but he loved the next song that came on—Porcaro’s early version of “Human Nature.”

15. THE TITLE "P.Y.T. (PRETTY YOUNG THING)" CAME FROM PEGGY LIPTON’S LINGERIE.

Jones noticed his wife’s lingerie said “pretty young things” on them, and tasked his songwriters to come up with lyrics for the title, “Pretty Young Thing: Tender Loving Care.” Singer/songwriter James Ingram came up with the winning version.

16. THERE WERE SOME STRANGE RECORDING TECHNIQUES.

Bruce Swedien recalled recording some background vocals in the Westlake shower stall. The “Don’t think twice!” lines in the second verse of “Billie Jean” was Jackson singing through a five-foot-long cardboard tube.

17. CBS RECORDS AND MTV CLASHED OVER THE "BILLIE JEAN" VIDEO.

In March 1983, Billboard Magazine noticed a sizeable delay between the video’s delivery to the fledgling cable network and its first airing. MTV claimed they only played rock artists, but were accused by some—including publicly by Rick James—of being racist. CBS Records president Walter Yetnikoff threatened to pull all videos made by the label's artists off the network if they didn’t play “Billie Jean.” At first, the video ran two to three times a day for one month, before being put into heavy rotation for the next three months.

18. BLOODS AND CRIPS MADE CAMEOS IN THE "BEAT IT" VIDEO.

The video cost $150,000 to produce, and was directed by Bob Giraldi, even though “Billie Jean” director Steve Barron was initially set to direct it. Jackson and Barron intended to set the video on a slave ship, with Jackson as the slave master.

19. THE "THRILLER" MUSIC VIDEO COST $500,000.

The Showtime cable network footed $300,000 of the budget for the rights to first air the music video and the “making of” feature, with MTV paying the rest to broadcast it after Showtime. Jackson asked John Landis to direct the video after seeing his work on the movie An American Werewolf in London. "I want to turn into a monster," Jackson told Landis. "Can I do that?" Landis wrote the disclaimer that appears in the beginning of the video because Jehovah’s Witnesses (a group which Jackson belonged to at the time) told the artist that “Thriller” endorsed Satanism.

20. THE "THRILLER" VIDEO PLAYED IN A MOVIE THEATER SO THAT IT COULD QUALIFY FOR AN OSCAR.

For one week in a movie theater in Westwood, California, Thriller served as the opening feature before showings of Fantasia (which didn't sit well with a lot of parents).

21. MANY FANS THOUGHT THE UPC BARCODE ON "THRILLER" WAS MICHAEL JACKSON’S HOME PHONE NUMBER.

The rumor spread so much that a hair studio in Bellevue, Washington received up to 50 phone calls per day. A woman in Youngstown, Ohio who also had the phone number said that while the kids that called were nice, some of the adults were “pretty rude and ignorant.”

11 Fun Facts About Dolly Parton

Brendon Thorne, Getty Images
Brendon Thorne, Getty Images

Over the past 50-some years, Dolly Parton has gone from a chipper country starlet to a worldwide icon of music and movies whose fans consistently pack a theme park designed (and named) in her honor. Dolly Parton is loved, lauded, and larger than life. But even her most devoted admirers might not know all there is to this Backwoods Barbie.

1. You won't find Dolly Parton on a Dollywood roller coaster.

Her theme park Dollywood offers a wide variety of attractions for all ages. Though she's owned it for more than 30 years, Parton has declined to partake in any of its rides. "My daddy used to say, 'I could never be a sailor. I could never be a miner. I could never be a pilot,' I am the same way," she once explained. "I have motion sickness. I could never ride some of these rides. I used to get sick on the school bus."

2. Dolly Parton once entered a Dolly Parton look-alike contest—and lost.


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Apparently Parton doesn't do drag well. “At a Halloween contest years ago on Santa Monica Boulevard, where all the guys were dressed up like me, I just over-exaggerated my look and went in and just walked up on stage," she told ABC. "I didn’t win. I didn’t even come in close, I don’t think.”

3. Dolly Parton spent a fortune to recreate her childhood home.

Parton and her 11 siblings were raised in a small house in the mountains of Tennessee that lacked electricity and indoor plumbing. When Parton bought the place, she hired her brother Bobby to restore it to the way it looked when they were kids. "But we wanted it to be functional," she recounted on The Nate Berkus Show, "So I spent a couple million dollars making it look like I spent $50 on it! Even like in the bathroom, I made the bathroom so it looked like an outdoor toilet.” You do you, Dolly.

4. Dolly Parton won't apologize for Rhinestone.


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Parton is well-known for her hit movies Steel Magnolias and 9 to 5, less so for the 1984 flop Rhinestone. The comedy musical about a country singer and a New York cabbie was critically reviled and fled from theaters in just four weeks. But while her co-star Sylvester Stallone has publicly regretted the vehicle, Parton declared in her autobiography My Life and Other Unfinished Business that she counts Rhinestone's soundtrack as some of her best work, especially "What a Heartache."

5. Dolly Parton is Miley Cyrus's godmother ... sort of.

"I'm her honorary godmother. I've known her since she was a baby," Parton told ABC of her close relationship with Miley Cyrus. "Her father (Billy Ray Cyrus) is a friend of mine. And when she was born, he said, 'You just have to be her godmother,' and I said, 'I accept.' We never did do a big ceremony, but I'm so proud of her, love her, and she's just like one of my own." Parton also played Aunt Dolly on Cyrus's series Hannah Montana.

6. Dolly Parton received death threats from the Ku Klux Klan.

A photo of Dolly Parton on stage
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In the mid-2000s, Dollywood joined the ranks of family amusement parks participating in "Gay Days," a time when families with LGBTQ members are encouraged to celebrate together in a welcoming community environment. This riled the KKK, but their threats didn't scare Dolly. "I still get threats," she has admitted. "But like I said, I'm in business. I just don't feel like I have to explain myself. I love everybody."

7. Dolly Parton started her own "library" to promote literacy, and has given away more than 100 million books.

In 1995, the pop culture icon founded Dolly Parton's Imagination Library with the goal of encouraging literacy in her home state of Tennessee. Over the years, the program—built to mail children age-appropriate books—spread nationwide, as well as to Canada, the UK, and Australia. When word of the Imagination Library hit Reddit, the swarms of parents eager to sign their kids up crashed the Imagination Library site. It is now back on track, accepting new registrations and donations.

8. There's a statue of Dolly Parton in her hometown of Sevierville, Tennessee.

A stone's throw from Dollywood, Sevierville, Tennessee is where Parton grew up. Between stimulating tourism and her philanthropy, this proud native has given a lot back to her hometown. And Sevierville residents returned that appreciation with a life-sized bronze Dolly that sits barefoot, beaming, and cradling a guitar, just outside the county courthouse. The sculpture, made by local artist Jim Gray, was dedicated on May 3, 1987. Today it is the most popular stop on Sevierville's walking tour.

9. The cloned sheep Dolly was named after Dolly Parton.

In 1995 scientists successfully created a clone from an adult mammal's somatic cell. This game-changing breakthrough in biology was named Dolly. But what about Parton inspired this honor? Her own groundbreaking career? Some signature witticism or beloved lyric? Nope. It was her legendary bustline. English embryologist Ian Wilmut revealed, "Dolly is derived from a mammary gland cell and we couldn't think of a more impressive pair of glands than Dolly Parton's."

10. Dolly Parton turned down an offer from Elvis Presley.

After Parton made her own hit out of "I Will Always Love You," Elvis Presley's manager, Colonel Tom Parker, reached out in hopes of having Presley cover it. But part of the deal demanded Parton surrender half of the publishing rights to the song. "Other people were saying, 'You're nuts. It's Elvis Presley. I'd give him all of it!'" Parton admitted, "But I said, 'I can't do that. Something in my heart says don't do that.' And I didn't do it and they didn't do it." It may have been for the best. Whitney Houston's cover for The Bodyguard soundtrack in 1992 was a massive hit that has paid off again and again for Parton.

11. In 2018, Dolly Parton earned two Guinness World Records.

Parton is no stranger to breaking records. And on January 17, 2018 it was announced that she holds not one but two spot in the Guinness World Records 2018 edition: One for Most Decades With a Top 20 Hit on the US Hot Country Songs Chart (she beat out George Jones, Reba McEntire, and Elvis Presley for the honor) and the other for Most Hits on US Hot Country Songs Chart By a Female Artist (with a total of 107). Parton said she was "humbled and blessed."

15 Fun Facts About Betty White

Frederick M. Brown, Getty Images
Frederick M. Brown, Getty Images

Happy birthday, Betty White! In honor of the ever-sassy star of The Mary Tyler Moore Show and The Golden Girls's 98th birthday, let's celebrate with a collection of fun facts about her life and legacy. 

1. Her name is Betty, not Elizabeth.

On January 17th, 1922, in Oak Park, Illinois, the future television icon was born Betty Marion White, the only child of homemaker Christine Tess (née Cachikis) and lighting company executive Horace Logan White. In her autobiography If You Ask Me (And of Course You Won't), White explained her parents named her "Betty" specifically because they didn't like many of the nicknames derived from "Elizabeth." Forget your Beths, your Lizas, your Ellies. She's Betty.

2. She's a Guinness World Record holder.

In the 2014 edition of the record-keeping tome, White was awarded the title of Longest TV Career for an Entertainer (Female) for her more than 70 years (and counting) in show business. The year before, Guinness gave out Longest TV Career for an Entertainer (Male) to long-time British TV host Bruce Forsyth. As both began their careers in 1939, they'd be neck-and-neck for the title, were they not separated by gender.

3. Her first television appearance is lost to history.

A photo of Betty White
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Even White can't remember the name of the show she made her screen debut on in 1939. But in an interview with Guinness Book of World Records, she recounted the life-changing event, saying, "I danced on an experimental TV show, the first on the west coast, in downtown Los Angeles. I wore my high school graduation dress and our Beverly Hills High student body president, Harry Bennett, and I danced the 'Merry Widow Waltz.'" 

4. White's initial rise to stardom was derailed by World War II.

Before she took off on television, White was working in theater, on radio, and as a model. But with WWII, she shelved her ambitions and joined the American Women's Voluntary Services. Her days were devoted to delivering supplies via PX truck throughout the Hollywood Hills, but her nights were spent at rousing dances thrown to give grand send-offs to soldiers set to ship out. Of that era, she told Cleveland Magazine, "It was a strange time and out of balance with everything." 

5. Her first sitcom hit was in the early 1950s.

A photo of actress Betty White
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Co-hosting the Al Jarvis show Hollywood on Television led to White producing her own vehicle, Life With Elizabeth. As a rare female producer, she developed the show alongside emerging writer-producer George Tibbles, who'd go on to work on such beloved shows as Dennis The Menace, Leave It To Beaver, and The Munsters. Though the show is not remembered much today, in 1951 it did earn White her first Emmy nomination of 21 (so far). Of these, she has won five times.

6. White loves a parade.

From 1962 to 1971, White hosted NBC's Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade alongside Bonanza's Lorne Greene. But that's not all. For 20 years (1956-1976), she was also a color commentator for NBC’s annual Tournament of Roses Parade. However, as her fame grew on CBS's The Mary Tyler Moore Show, NBC decided they should pull White (and all the rival promotion that came with her) from their parade. It was a decision that was heartbreaking for White, who told People, "On New Year's Day I just sat home feeling wretched, watching someone else do my parade."

7. She has been married three times.


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White and her first husband, Dick Barker, were married and divorced in the same year, 1945. After four months on Barker's rural Ohio chicken farm, White fled back to Los Angeles and her career as an entertainer. Soon after, she met agent Lane Allen, who became her husband in 1947, and her ex-husband in 1949 after he pushed her to quit show biz. She wouldn’t marry again until 1963, after she fell for widower/father of three/game show host Allen Ludden.

8. Her meet-cute with husband number three happened on Password.

Bubbly Betty was a regular on the game show circuit, but she met her match in 1961 when she was a celebrity guest on Password, hosted by Allen Ludden. Though White initially rebuffed Ludden's engagement ring (he wore it around his neck until she changed her mind), the pair stayed together until his death in 1981. Today, their stars on the Hollywood Walk Of Fame sit side-by-side.

9. White originally auditioned for the role of Blanche on The Golden Girls.

A photo of actress Betty White
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Producers of the series thought of White for the role of the ensemble's promiscuous party girl because she'd long played the lusty Sue Ann Nivens on The Mary Tyler Moore Show. Meanwhile, they eyed Rue McClanahan for the part of naive country bumpkin Rose Nylund because of her work as the sweet but dopey Vivian Harmon on Maude. Director Jay Sandrich was worried about typecasting, so he asked the two to switch roles in the audition. And just like that, The Golden Girls history was made.

10. If she hadn't been an actor, she'd have been a zookeeper.

"Hands down," she confessed in a 2014 interview. This should come as little surprise to those aware of White's reputation as an avid animal lover and activist. Not only does she try to visit the local zoo of wherever she may travel, but also she's a supporter of the Farm Animal Reform Movement and Friends of Animals group, as well as a Los Angeles Zoo board member, who has donated "tens of thousands of dollars" over the past 40 years. In 2010, White founded a T-shirt line whose profits go to the Morris Animal Foundation.

11. She passed on a role in As Good as It Gets because of an animal cruelty scene.

A photo of actress Betty White
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White was offered the part of Beverly Connelly, onscreen mother to Helen Hunt, in the Oscar-winning movie As Good as It Gets. But the devoted animal lover was horrified by the scene where Jack Nicholson's curmudgeonly anti-hero pitches a small dog down the trash chute of his apartment building. On The Joy Behar Show White explained, "All I could think of was all the people out there watching that movie … and if there's a dog in the building that's barking or they don't like—boom! They do it." She complained to director James L. Brooks in hopes of having the scene cut. Instead, he kept it and cast Shirley Knight in the role.

12. A Facebook campaign made White the oldest person to ever host Saturday Night Live.

In 2010, a Facebook group called Betty White To Host SNL … Please? gathered so many fans (nearly a million) and so much media attention that SNL executive producer Lorne Michaels was happy to make it happen. At 88 years old, White set a new record. Her episode, for which many of the show's female alums returned, also won rave reviews, and gave the show's highest ratings in 18 months. White won her fifth Emmy for this performance.

13. She is the oldest person to earn an Emmy nomination.


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In 2014, White earned an Emmy nod for Outstanding Host for a Reality or Reality-Competition Program for the senior citizen-centric prank show Betty White's Off Their Rockers. She was 92. She also holds the record for the longest span between Emmy nominations, between her first (1951) and last (so far).  

14. She loves junk food.

The key to aging gracefully has nothing to do with health food as far as White is concerned. In 2011, her Hot in Cleveland co-star Jane Leeves dished on White's snacking habits, "She eats Red Vines, hot dogs, French fries, and Diet Coke. If that's key, maybe she's preserved because of all the preservatives." Fellow co-star Wendie Malick concurred, "She eats red licorice, like, ridiculously a lot. She seems to exist on hot dogs and French fries." 

15. She wants Robert Redford.

A photo of actor Robert Redford
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White once gave this cheeky confession: “My answer to anything under the sun, like ‘What have you not done in the business that you’ve always wanted to do?’ is ‘Robert Redford.'” Though she has more than 110 film and television credits on her filmography, White has never worked with the Out of Africa star, who is 14 years her junior.

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