“People want to know why I do this, why I write such gross stuff. I like to tell them I have the heart of a small boy… and I keep it in a jar on my desk.” Stephen King
Regular Horror Freak News readers know I’ve been presenting a series of “Getting to Know You” articles about horror’s greatest fictional icons. I’m doing something different this time, featuring a real-life horror heavyweight, someone whose influence on our beloved genre can never be understated. I’m talking about elite fear practitioner Stephen King.
King is the most successful American writer in history; Guinness Superlatives (the Book of World Records group) has certified he’s got the highest number of motion picture adaptations by a living author. Since the publication of Carrie in 1974 he’s hit # 1 on the New York Times bestseller list 36 times. His books have never been out of print.
Since everyone already knows King hates Stanley Kubrick’s adaptation of The Shining, I’ve scoured the net for some more obscure, yet equally interesting factoids; hopefully some of these revelations will surprise you.
Stephen King Has Only Directed 1 Movie
It might shock you to learn that the man whose work has been adapted into over 200 movies and television shows has only directed 1 film: Maximum Overdrive in 1986. When asked why he hasn’t returned to the director’s chair since, King often cites Maximum Overdrive’s financial, artistic, and critical shortcomings as the reason; the film has a 17% freshness rating on Rotten Tomatoes. Always honest about past struggles with drugs and alcohol, the author admits he was using cocaine during the entire shoot, a fact he deeply regrets.
King’s Brush with Freddy Krueger
Despite being tainted by the stink of Maximum Overdrive, New Line Cinema offered King a chance to direct A Nightmare on Elm Street 5: The Dream Child (released in 1989). The job eventually went to another Stephen, Stephen Hopkins, who went on to helm Predator 2, The Ghost and the Darkness, and The Reaping (among others)
King’s Brush with Death
Stephen King plays with the family dog, Marlow, while recovering in 1999
Most people know that King was in a serious car accident back in 1999, but few know all the harrowing details of the event that left him with permanent disabilities. After being struck from behind while walking his dog, he was thrown over 15 feet before landing in a ditch on the side of the road. He suffered a broken leg, a bruised lung, and a gaping gash on his head. Aspects of King’s accident and recuperation were later explored in his novel Dreamcatcher. As for the man who hit him: Bryan Smith already had a history of drunken and reckless driving before the accident; he died several years later of an overdose.
Stephen King: Rock Star
Stephen King is part of an all-writers rock band called Rock Bottom Remainders (a “remainder” is a book that hasn’t sold well is drastically reduced in price); his bandmates include: Amy Tan, Dave Barry, Scott Turow, Roy Blount Jr., and James Luca McBride. Their motto, according to Barry, is: “We play music as well as Metallica writes novels”. Check out a clip from their GMA appearance on May 31st, 2007, in the video above.
The Eyes of Stephen King
During an interview in 1999, King revealed he suffers from macular degeneration. Also known as age-related macular degeneration (AMD or ARMD), the condition is characterized by blurriness or lack of vision in certain areas. More alarming symptoms include hallucinations and eventual blindness. It’s not known how seriously King is afflicted or if the condition will eventually end his writing career.
Stephen King vs. Richard Bachman
It may seem unfathomable that King would choose to release novels under a pen name (considering his real name has always been such a lucrative brand); still, Rage, The Long Walk, Roadwork, The Running Man, Thinner, and Blaze were all published under the pseudonym Richard Bachman. King purportedly came up with the name when he was reading a novel by Richard Stark while listening to Bachman-Turner Overdrive. After it was discovered that Bachman was actually King, he retired the pseudonym for several years before “posthumously” releasing The Regulators; the dust jacket of the novel jokingly claimed that Bachman died in 1985 from “Cancer of the Pseudonym”.
King on Autographs
There’s an enduring rumor that Stephen King is so superstitious about signing autographs, if someone mails him a book, he’ll burn it and return the ashes to the sender! (Spoiler: It’s not true). The real reason King refuses to sign autographs is because he hates “the idolatry of celebrities”. Sounds reasonable, but if King stopped to sign an autograph every time he was approached by a fan, he’d never get anything else done. For clarification, King does still autograph books sold at release and signing events.
King’s Collaborations with Blue Öyster Cult
King contributed a short monolog titled Bedtime Stories for Children of the Damned on two versions of the out-of-print Blue Öyster Cult song Astronomy. Have a listen in the video above. More cowbell!
King Can’t Remember Cujo
King has expressed regret over the fact that he was so drunk the entire time he wrote Cujo (released in 1981) that he barely remembers writing it.
King’s Brush with L. Ron Hubbard
King courted controversy when he donated a complimentary “blurb” for embattled Scientology founder L. Ron Hubbard’s novel Fear. He described the book as “a classic tale of creeping, surreal menace and horror”.
What Scares Stephen King?
Throughout various interviews, King has revealed some of his greatest fears, including spiders and the number 13. After recovering from alcoholism, King developed a fear of therapists. Following a particularly turbulent airplane ride, he developed a crippling fear of flying.
King in Playboy
As a young aspiring writer, King dreamed of being featured in one of his all-time favorite magazines, Playboy. He was finally able to scratch this accomplishment off of his bucket list when Playboy published his poem The Bone Church (where it was illustrated by Phil Hale), which featured the immortal line “And balls to your grinning face!”. An article in The Guardian describes the poem in depth:
“When travelling to the heart of darkness, terror is not an emotion – it’s a destination,” writes King before launching into The Bone Church. Told by a man in a bar, the poem is the story of an ill-fated expedition into a jungle. “There were thirty-two of us went into that greensore / and only three who rose above it,” writes King. “We were thirty days in the green, and only one of us came out.”
The team is killed off, variously, by snakes, leeches (“Dorrance tried to kiss him back to life / and sucked from his throat a leech as big as / a hothouse tomato”) and fevers, until three finally arrive at the bone church, “a million years of bone and tusk, / a whited sepulchre of eternity, a thrashpit of prongs / such as you’d see if hell burned dry to the slag of its cauldron”. Things, unsurprisingly enough, don’t end well, as “mammoths from the dead age when man / was not” start to thunder past in “endless convulsions of tumbling death”.
[King] will allow aspiring film-makers to purchase the film rights to any of his short stories (and only short-stories, not novels) for a dollar. The resulting films are sent directly to him and, if he enjoys them, placed on a shelf marked “Dollar-Babies.”.