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Image: Thriller, Michael Jackson's tiger
Bill Dow  /  AP
"Thriller was a real piece of work, one gutsy girl," recalled actress-activist Tippi Hedren, who kept Thriller at her wildlife preserve from 2006 until the tiger's death on June 11, 2012.
updated 6/27/2012 7:45:53 PM ET 2012-06-27T23:45:53

Thriller, a tiger that belonged to Michael Jackson when the entertainer lived at his Neverland ranch, has died of lung cancer at actress-activist Tippi Hedren's wildlife preserve in California.

The 13-year-old, 375-pound tiger died June 11, Hedren said Wednesday. An autopsy was performed and the tiger was cremated. Staff workers will hold a private service when the ashes are buried in a section of the preserve set aside for animals that die there.

Thriller and her brother Sabu were born on Nov. 20, 1998, and lived with Jackson until May 4, 2006, Hedren said.

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When Jackson left Neverland for good, his veterinarian asked Hedren to take the cats at her Shambala Preserve in Acton, about 50 miles north of Los Angeles.

Other Neverland animals, including giraffes, flamingos, orangutans, elephants and dozens of reptiles, were sent to other sanctuaries in other parts of the country.

Slideshow: The face of change (on this page)

Shambala didn't have a lot of room, but Hedren built a $79,000 habitat next to the preserve's lake and there were trees and a hill and Thriller had a great life with Sabu, she said.

"Thriller was a real piece of work, one gutsy girl. She ruled Sabu's life. It was humorous to watch the whole relationship. She did things to him that male tigers would normally never allow. She would steal food from him. That's unheard of. She ruled the roost, was very independent and tough," Hedren said.

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Unlike many of the animals at the preserve, Thriller and Sabu arrived at the compound in excellent health physically and emotionally, Hedren said.

There are 15 tigers at the compound, but Sabu is now alone in the habitat he shared with Thriller and he'll probably stay that way, Hedren said.

Tigers are loners in the wild, she explained.

Slideshow: Animal Tracks: June 20 - 27 (on this page)
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Because Thriller was a famous tiger, she was very popular with visitors and media, Hedren said. "She didn't care. She was not a diva and didn't mug for the camera. We all loved her for it."

Staff was trying to cope with Thriller's death, Hedren said. "It's very hard for all of us when these animals go away. Fortunately for Sabu and Thriller, they came in healthy and content. They had no problem with being in quarantine for 30 days. They adjusted so well."

Most of the animals at Shambala, which requires $75,000 in donations every month to stay open, have trouble adjusting because they have such abusive pasts, Hedren said.

Jackson, who died in 2009, often talked about his love of animals, but he never called to check on the tigers and he never sent any money to help pay for their care, Hedren said.

Slideshow: Michael Jackson’s life and career (on this page)

A year after the tigers arrived, Hedren said staff sent a package of photos of Sabu and Thriller and T-shirts and other memorabilia to Jackson's children, "but we never heard a word back. I just think it's odd."

A call to a spokesman for Jackson's estate was not immediately returned. The estate did not exist when the animals were transferred.

Copyright 2012 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

Video: Paris Jackson: Peers ‘try to cyberbully me’

Photos: The changing face of Michael Jackson

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  1. 1972

    Michael Jackson, 13, was the youngest member of the Jackson 5. (AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  2. 1977

    Michael Jackson of the Jackson 5 during the 1977 American Music Awards. (AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  3. 1980

    Michael Jackson won three American Music Awards in 1980. (AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  4. 1984

    Michael Jackson is seen backstage at the 26th annual Grammy Awards in Los Angeles on Tuesday, Feb. 28, 1984. (Reed Saxon / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  5. 1987

    Michael Jackson appears at the American Cinema Award gala on Jan. 9, 1987, in Beverly Hills, Calif. (Bob Galbraith / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  6. 1992

    Michael Jackson as seen in New York in 1992. (Richard Drew / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  7. 1993

    Michael Jackson performs during a show at the National Stadium in Singapore during his 1993 "Dangerous" tour. (C.F. Tham / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  8. 1995

    Michael Jackson smiles for cameras at the announcement of nominations for the 1995 MTV Video Awards in New York City on July 25, 1995. (Mark Lennihan / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  9. 1998

    Michael Jackson gives an interview to the Associated Press in Detroit on July 8, 1998. (Richard Sheinwald1 / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  10. 2000

    Michael Jackson arrives at the G & P Foundation for Cancer Research's Angel Ball on Nov. 30, 2000, in New York. (Suzanne Plunkett / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  11. 2001

    Michael Jackson arrives at the University of Oxford Union in Oxford, England, on March 6, 2001. (Alastair Grant / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  12. 2002

    Michael Jackson appeared at Al Sharpton's National Action Network headquarters in the Harlem neighborhood of New York on July 9, 2002. (Tina Fineberg / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  13. 2004

    Michael Jackson speaks at a news conference after his arraignment in his child molestation case at the Santa Maria, Calif., courthouse, on April 30, 2004. (Stephen Osman / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  14. 2005

    Michael Jackson arrives at the Santa Barbara County courthouse in Santa Monica, Calif., on April 27, 2005. (Michael A Mariant / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  15. 2007

    Michael Jackson poses in Los Angeles on Nov. 8, 2007. (Danny Moloshok / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
  16. 2009

    Michael Jackson at a press conference in London on March 5, 2009. (Joel Ryan / AP) Back to slideshow navigation
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    Above: Slideshow (16) The face of change
  2. Michael Jackson in a Butterfly Collar Shirt
    Henry Diltz / Corbis
    Slideshow (33) Michael Jackson’s life and career
  3. Image: Nachwuchs bei den Schnee-Eulen
    Stefan Simonsen / Zuma Press
    Slideshow (19) Animal Tracks: June 20 - 27


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