Stephen King is the Big Mac of writers (his words, not ours). Unavoidable – an institution. However, unlike the fast food restaurant, King is actually good for your soul and today is his 70th birthday. Which means that he’s been publishing excellent pieces of horror-tinged prose for 44 years and is still going.
Which is pretty incredible. King’s writing is witty, profound and, depending on what age you read his books, a master of suspense/bone chillingly scary (delete as appropriate).
But how much do you know about the man behind Carrie, The Shining, The Dead Zone, Misery, It, Pet Sematary and much, much more?
What follows are 20 things you probably didn’t know about Stephen King.
He suffers from triskaidekaphobia – fear of the number 13. “The number 13 never fails to trace that old icy finger up and down my spine. When I'm writing, I'll never stop work if the page number is 13 or a multiple of 13; I'll just keep on typing till I get to a safe number. I always take the last two steps on my back stairs as one, making 13 into 12. There were after all 13 steps on the English gallows up until 1900 or so. When I'm reading, I won't stop on page 94, 193, or 382, since the sums of these numbers add up to 13.”
A collection of short stories by HP Lovecraft called The Lurker Of The Threshold has often been cited by King as a catalyst in becoming a writer. It was his absent father’s book and he found it in the attic. The cover of the book featured a demon.
He once said in a BBC interview that Jack Torrance (The Shining) was his most autobiographical character. At the time he wrote the book he was drinking a lot like Jack. Originally he saw Jack “as a heroic character battling his demons the way strong American men are supposed to do.”
The Onion once wrote an article claiming that King couldn’t remember writing The Tommyknockers. He then admitted that it was actually true as he couldn’t remember writing many novels from the 80s due to his alcoholism, including Cujo.
King and his wife Tabitha own three radio stations in their home state of Maine.
When it was revealed that the writer Richard Bachman was in fact Stephen King, he retired the alias citing that Bachman had died. The cause of death was given as cancer of the pseudonym.
He told fellow author Neil Gaiman that if he had the chance to live his life all over again he wouldn’t change a thing. Apart from appearing in an American Express advert.
According to Guinness Superlatives more of King’s books have been adapted into films than any other living author.
King was declared unfit for military service in Vietnam because the draft board found him 4-F on grounds of high blood pressure, limited vision, flat feet and punctured eardrums.
A big fan of The Ramones, he wrote the liner notes for their 2003 tribute album, We’re A Happy Family.
King was always interested in drama and cropped up in a number of his movies. He was a man at the ATM in Maximum Overdrive, a minister in Pet Sematary, a cemetery caretaker in Sleepwalkers, Teddy Weizak in The Stand, Tom Holby in The Langoliers, Dr Bangor in Thinner, Gage Creed in the TV version of The Shining and a pizza delivery guy in Rose Red.
Originally, he threw the first draft of Carrie, originally intended as a short story, away but it was his wife Tabitha who saw potential and urged him to continue on with it. He ended up dedicating the book to her.
The original title for Salem's Lot was Second Coming but, again, King's wife Tabitha stepped in and remarked that it sounded like a "bad sex story" so it was eventually changed.
Rage, his first novel as Richard Bachman, was about a disturbed high school student who held his classmates at gunpoint. After Jeffery Lyne Cox, a disturbed high school student, held his classmates hostage, was found to have read and been inspired by the book and then three similar incidents, King let Rage fall out of print in the US.
King was once mistaken for a vandal when he started signing books during an unannounced visit to an Australian book shop.
He loved the movie 28 Days Later so much that he bought out an entire screening of it, all 275 tickets.
Reportedly, King attended a screening of Pan's Labyrinth and sat next to director Guillermo Del Toro. During the infamous Pale Man chase scene, King squirmed in his seat which Del Toro described as "the best experience ever".
Ronald McDonald was one of the influences for Pennywise.
After his near-fatal accident in 1999, King's homecare nurses were told by their supervisor that under no circumstances were they allowed to make any Misery jokes...
A Carrie musical? Yes, in 1988 it became an actual thing. Firstly by the Royal Shakespeare Company in Stratford-Upon-Avon, England and then on Broadway later that year. Despite being sold out most nights, the reaction was extremely mixed and the $8 million show was closed after only 16 previews and 5 performances. It was brought back briefly in 2012 in an off-Broadway production.