The next day, King took his literary “bling,” as he called it, to Stephen Colbert’s show. During the interview, Colbert pointed to a stack of King’s books. The author of Carrie, The Shining, The Stand, The Shawshank Redemption, The Green Mile, and numerous other volumes has been publishing books since 1973. Stacked up, his collected canon is taller than the author himself.
While King’s work has been part of national life – both on the bookshelves and through film adaptations – for the past four decades, the man himself remains a quiet, unassuming persona, a broad smile beneath a thick set of glasses. His super-fans may know most of the thirteen facts to follow, but for someone who’s just read a couple of King’s terrifying tomes, here are a few surprising things but about the writer behind all the books.
1. He may have seen a childhood friend violently die, but his subconscious blocked the memory.
When he was four years old, Stephen went out to play with a friend, and the other boy climbed onto a train track at the wrong time. He was hit and killed. Stephen may have seen it happen, but as he writes in his non-fiction collection Danse Macabre, “I have no memory of the incident at all; only of having been told about it years after the fact.”
2. He did his first “published” writing for his brother’s junior-high newspaper Dave’s Rag.
Stephen’s older brother put together a newspaper with opinion columns, jokes, and short stories that he sold around school. Stephen contributed serialized stories ripped from the plotlines of the sci-fi and horror movies he was watching during those years.
3. He wrote Carrie during his spare time between teaching high-school English and working summers at a laundromat.
King had already been publishing short stories in porn magazines, but he had his big literary breakthrough with Carrie, a short novel about a high school girl whose menstrual cycle unlocks supernatural powers of revenge and terror. He was teaching classes like “Living with English” at a local school and spent summers washing sheets for extra money. He and his wife couldn’t afford a telephone. Carrie originally sold for $2,500, but the paperback rights went for $400,000. King had broken through.
4. He was so drunk and high in the early 8os he can’t remember writing some of his books.
King collapsed into alcoholism quickly upon achieving success. Jack Torrence’s addictions in The Shining are semi-autobiographical. In his memoir, King says he was drinking a case of tallboys every night and can’t remember writing his novel Cujo. His family confronted him, and King went sober – and has stayed sober since.
5. He started the first draft of Misery writing at the desk where Rudyard Kipling died.
King and his wife Tabitha were at Brown’s Hotel in London when King couldn’t sleep. He asked the hotel staff if there was a place he could write, and they pointed him to a large, cherry-wood desk that had been owned by Rudyard Kipling, author of The Jungle Book, Kim, and vast amounts of poetry. Kipling died sitting at that desk, and in his night of writing there, King started the book that would become Misery.
6. He worked on the plot of a music video with Michael Jackson and wrote a musical with John Cougar Mellancamp.
Stephen King wrote the script for a 40-minute, more-or-less forgotten Michael Jackson music video called Ghosts. He also co-authored a musical with John Cougar Mellancamp titled Ghost Brothers of Darkland County about the rivalry between two brothers.
7. He doesn’t like the far-right.
King is a Democrat and often speaks about his distaste for the far-right of American politics. For example, he once called Glenn Beck “Satan’s mentally challenged younger brother.”
King published the novel Rage in 1977 under his pseudonym Richard Bachman. In the story, a high school student sets fire to his locker, guns down teachers, and holds his classmates hostage at gunpoint. Eleven years later, a real-life school shooter in California claimed he had read Rage multiple times. Other school shooters have referenced the book as well.
As a result, King has guided the book toward obscurity. He wrote of the book in 2007, “Now out of print, and a good thing.” After the Sandy Hook school shootings in 2013, King released a long essay titled “Guns” on the gun control debate. At one point in “Guns,” he wrote, “Plenty of gun advocates cling to their semi-automatics the way Amy Winehouse and Michael Jackson clung to the shit that was killing them.”
9. King and his wife contributed $1.2 million to a local baseball stadium, but with one condition attached.
In the early 1990s, the Kings gave over a million dollars to help build the Mansfeld Stadium in Bangor, Maine, but there was one string attached: the stadium’s scoreboard needed to be tall enough and angled in a way so that the Kings could see it from their house. Apparently, Stephen likes to follow scores from his office window when he can’t make it to the game itself.
10. King almost died in 1999.
A reckless driver in a minivan crashed into King on a Maine two-lane highway and nearly killed him. King slowly recovered, but at one point, doctors thought he might not walk again. Though while he was on pain-killers King said he would retire from writing, he wrote throughout his recovery and produced one of his best books of his entire career: On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft.
11. King has a rock band.
Stephen rocks out alongside writers such as Amy Tan, Mitch Albom, Dave Barry, and Simpsons creator Matt Groening in a band called the “Rock Bottom Remainders.” They play shows together maybe once a year, at best. According to Dave Barry, “We play music as well as Metallica writes novels.”
For the master of horror, the scariest thing in the world these days are the mental illnesses associated with old age, such as dementia and Alzheimer’s disease. He told NPR once, “That’s the boogeyman in the closet now. I’m afraid of losing my mind.”
14. He’s also freaked out by the number 13.
In an interview with Playboy early in his career, King said, “I have a thing about the number 13 in general; it 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.” In the same interview, when asked if he was afraid of the dark, he answered, “Of course. Isn’t everybody?”