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10 Surprising Facts About Stephen King, 76

Learn how a poor kid from Maine — who loved being scared — became the master of horror

spinner image Stephen King and his new book, 'You Like It Darker'
Stephen King's 'You Like It Darker,' out May 21, includes twelve short stories — many never-before-published.
AARP (Photo by Shane Leonard; Cover Courtesy Simon and Schuster)

We apparently enjoy feeling fear when it’s within the safe confines of fiction, and Stephen King has happily obliged for decades, offering his wildly popular, skillfully crafted tales of terror. His latest is a collection of short stories, You Like It Darker (May 21), all featuring frightening and/or evil forces either human or supernatural. Each story is different, and some are more engrossing than others, but there’s no doubt that King is still at the top of his game — which is to scare the bejesus out of us. 

spinner image You Like It Darker book cover
Courtesy Simon and Schuster

He’s arguably done some of his best writing in recent years, including the exceptionally good 2020 story collection If It Bleeds (check out “The Life of Chuck”) and the 2021 crime novel Billy Summers.​​​

To mark King’s new book release and remarkable career, we’ve highlighted some things many readers might not know about the incomparable author.​​​

He knew pain early.

King’s earliest memory, from age 2, involves pain: A wasp stung his ear while he was carrying a cement cinderblock — he was pretending to be a circus strongman. King dropped the cinderblock on his toes and screamed bloody murder, as he recounts in his 2000 memoir, On Writing. ​​​

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He liked feeling afraid.

“My childhood was pretty ordinary, except from a very early age, I wanted to be scared,” he told NPR in 2022. “I just did. I was scared. Afterwards, I wanted a light on because I was afraid that there was something in the closet.” He used to listen at the door when his mom listened to a radio show called Dimension X, “and go back to bed and quake.” ​ ​​

He wasn’t always rich.

Born in Portland, Maine, he was raised by a struggling single mom (his dad fled the scene when King was 2). He went to college at the University of Maine, where he met his future wife, Tabitha, who’s also a writer. They married in 1971 and lived in a rented trailer with their first two children, a toddler and an infant. King was a high school English teacher at the private Hampden Academy and took on odd jobs while Tabitha worked at Dunkin’ Donuts.​​​

He had his first big — really big — break with Carrie.​

He didn’t make real money from his craft until 1973, when Doubleday gave him a $2,500 advance against royalties for Carrie, a novel about a 16-year-old girl with telekinetic powers.

He hated the movie version of The Shining.

King has cited many reasons for his disappointment in Stanley Kubrick’s 1980 film adaptation of his 1977 novel, including the portrayal of Jack’s wife, Wendy. In the book, she is strong and independent, King said, but in the movie, where she’s played by Shelley Duvall, she came off as weak and weepy. King wanted Christopher Reeve to play Jack (Superman! can you imagine?), but Kubrick went with Jack Nicholson. “I love Kubrick as a filmmaker, but I just felt that he didn’t have the chops for this particular thing,” he told The New York Times in 2020, noting that he preferred the 1997 TV miniseries of The Shining, which he scripted himself. ​​​

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He pops up in screen adaptations of his books.

Many of his works have been transformed into movies or TV series, and you can sometimes spot the King of horror himself in cameos. He played Teddy Weizak in a few episodes of the 1994 miniseries The Stand; a diner patron in an episode of Mr. Mercedes (2017); and a cemetery caretaker in the film Sleepwalkers (1992).​​​

Castle Rock was inspired by literature.

King’s famous fictional town of Castle Rock, which first appeared in his 1979 novel The Dead Zone, came from Lord of the Flies, William Golding’s classic 1954 book about boys stranded on an island who descend into violence without the strictures of civilization. In Golding’s novel, the Castle Rock is a narrow ledge that the character Ralph describes as “a rotten place.”​​​

He’s had his own personal demons and trauma.

King battled an alcohol abuse problem for years (though he’s been sober for decades). In 1999, King nearly died when he was hit by a Dodge van while walking along a road near his home in North Lovell, Maine. His recovery required multiple surgeries, lengthy rehab and, he’s noted often, excruciating pain. ​​​

He totally rocks. And loves baseball.

King loves rock music, which he listens to while he writes. He played guitar in a charity band known as the Rock Bottom Remainders with authors including Amy Tan, Dave Barry and Mitch Albom. He also loves baseball — particularly the Red Sox; some characters in his books are Red Sox fans or even players. ​​​

He has a sense of humor.

King can be wryly funny, including on X (formerly Twitter), where he’s followed by some 7.1 million fans — although his humor is a bit dad-jokey. Think: “The difference between an onion and a bagpipe: nobody cries when you chop up a bagpipe,” and “I saw toast in a cage at the zoo. The sign said bred in captivity.” He and Tabitha’s large Victorian house in Bangor, Maine, is fronted with a wrought iron fence featuring bats, spiders, a dragon and cobwebs — making it a favorite pilgrimage stop for King fans paying homage to the author on his home turf.​

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