Stephen King Biography: The Man Who Almost Didn’t Become a Writer

The world outside of central Maine almost
never got to know Stephen King. If not for his wife’s diligence and her
confidence in her husband, the book that launched a million pages might never have come into
being. When his wife Tabitha rescued the start of
the manuscript of “Carrie” from the trash and insisted her husband finish it, King was
working as an English teacher and writing on the side. Tabitha’s judgment was right, Carrie became
a smash hit, and Stephen King is one of the world’s most famous and most prolific authors. So what’s the story behind the stories? Let’s delve into his life… Early Life Stephen King was born in Portland, Maine,
the largest city of the mostly rural state that serves as the setting for so many of
his famous stories. Stephen was the second son born to Nellie
and Donald King, but the family of four soon became a family of three. When Stephen was only two years old, and his
brother only four, their father went out, telling the family he was buying a pack of
cigarettes. He never returned. King’s mother worked several jobs, moving
with the boys from Maine, going from state to state to find work and a place she could
afford to live and raise two boys on her own. But Maine was home, and it’s where the family
eventually settled for good. When they moved back to Maine, the family
didn’t have indoor plumbing. And this was the 1960s. King’s life growing up was a far cry from
the wealth he has now. But King didn’t see his childhood as exceptional
or out of the ordinary. Though he does acknowledge he’s always liked
scary things. “My childhood was pretty ordinary, except
from a very early age I wanted to be scared. I just did. I was scared afterward. I wanted a light on because I was scared. There was something in the closet. My imagination was very active even at a young
age.” Some have said that King might also be inspired
to write such horrifying stories by a childhood event he doesn’t even remember. “According to Mom, I had gone off to play
at a neighbor’s house—a house that was near a railroad line. About an hour after I left I came back (she
said), as white as a ghost. I would not speak for the rest of the day;
I would not tell her why I’d not waited to be picked up or phoned that I wanted to
come home; I would not tell her why my chum’s mom hadn’t walked me back but had allowed
me to come alone. It turned out that the kid I had been playing
with had been run over by a freight train while playing on or crossing the tracks (years
later, my mother told me they had picked up the pieces in a wicker basket).” As traumatic as that event must have been,
it was not the only explanation for King’s vivid imagination. Friends of the King tell stories about how
the family was known for their attention to literature. If their mother couldn’t find – or couldn’t
afford – a babysitter, she’d leave her sons alone with the expectation they would read
aloud to each other. King’s love of stories and the written word
was fostered from an early age. And, the tradition stuck – King and his wife
Tabitha also made their own kids read aloud to each other, and to them. He’d even record them on cassettes to make
the family their own collection of audiobooks. Growing up, King also wrote material for his
brother’s newsletter. Called “Dave’s Rag,” they made copies
on a mimeograph machine and distributed it to their friends. But King was soon able to move beyond just
writing for his sibling’s newsletter. In 1965, when he was still in high school,
King was published in Comics Review. The story was right in line with the frightening
plots we all know King for today. King had been working as a gravedigger to
earn money as a teenager. The job inspired him to write a story called
“I Was A Teenage Grave Robber,” and its publication was his first taste of published
success. The only downside – he didn’t get paid for
the work. His first paid published work didn’t come
until he was in college and earned $35 for a story called “The Glass Floor.” King graduated from Lisbon Falls High School,
the high school in the town that later became the setting for portions of the book “11/22/63.” Lisbon Falls was a milltown, and King spent
time working in the town’s mill when he was a teenager. College & Career Start After graduation, King had aspirations to
be a writer. So he headed north to the University of Maine
Orono to earn a degree in English Literature. While in college, King was a columnist for
the college paper, was outspoken against the Vietnam War, and worked in the college library. That same library is now home to many of King’s
papers. It’s also where he met his wife. Tabitha was looking for a book in the stacks,
King passed by and struck up a conversation with her, and four years later the literary
couple had graduated, had a daughter and was married. Though King had been writing in college, he
was far from being able to support himself and a growing family just by writing. He, Tabitha, and their daughter Naomi were
living in a trailer outside of Bangor, and King was working two jobs. He was teaching English at Hampden Academy,
and in the summers was pumping gas at the local station while also working shifts at
a laundromat. Tabitha took on shifts at a Dunkin’ Donuts,
and they struggled to get by. But King always made time to write. Even in the cramped quarters of the family’s
trailer, he made a point to set aside space for a writing desk and typewriter. 2,000 words a day was his goal, and that’s
a goal he stands by today. Eventually, King earned a teaching certificate
and was able to put his college education to use as a teacher at Hampden Academy. The work still wasn’t what he wanted to
be doing, though. It was writing he loved, and writing that
he wanted to earn a living from. Writing has always been his purpose in life,
as he explains, “There was nothing else I was made to do. I was made to write stories and I love to
write stories. That’s why I do it. I really can’t imagine doing anything else
and I can’t imagine not doing what I do.” Though it took years of effort, his big break
did come. After Tabitha fished the beginning of Carrie
out of the trash in 1973, King finished the book and sent it off to a publisher. He wasn’t confident about its chances of
being published: “…my considered opinion was that I had
written the world’s all-time loser.” The family wasn’t doing well financially
when he sent Carrie in, and they couldn’t even afford a phone. So he got the news via telegram … he’d
be receiving a 2500 dollar advance and Doubleday would be publishing Carrie. Then…even better news. The paperback rights were sold for 400,000
dollars. King could quit teaching and write full-time,
and his family would be better off than they had ever dared to imagine. The book was a smash hit. Within the next year, a million copies were
sold and only three years later it was made into an Academy Award winning movie. Stephen King was now officially a writer,
and an American celebrity. But success didn’t mean that King settled
into a completely untroubled life. As he kept writing, cranking out books like
Misery, Cujo, and Pet Sematary, he was drinking heavily…and he knew he had a problem. King told Rolling Stone: “Nobody in the house drank but me. My wife would have a glass of wine and that
was all. So I went in the garage one night, and the
trash can that was set aside for beer cans was full to the top. It had been empty the week before. I was drinking, like, a case of beer a night. And I thought, “I’m an alcoholic.” That was probably about ’78, ’79. I thought, “I’ve gotta be really careful,
because if somebody says, ‘You’re drinking too much, you have to quit,’ I won’t be able
to.” He knew he had a problem, but he didn’t
stop drinking. In fact, he took it one step further. In the late 70s, King started doing cocaine,
using it at night while he was writing. By this time, he and Tabitha had three kids
and he knew his addictions were taking a toll both on his family and his writing. He attributes the length of Tommyknockers
to cocaine, and looking back has said the book could have been half the length if so
much of it hadn’t been inspired purely by his drugged-up energy. He’s also said he doesn’t even remember
writing Cujo, so bad was his consumption of alcohol and drugs during the 80s. “There’s one novel, Cujo, that I barely remember
writing at all. I don’t say that with pride or shame, only
with a vague sense of sorrow and loss. I like that book. I wish I could remember enjoying the good
parts as I put them down on the page.” And, The Shining and Misery both carry an
undercurrent of reference to his struggles – Jack Torrence is an alcoholic in The Shining,
and King has described the antagonist of Misery as essentially the personification of cocaine. It wasn’t until the late 80s, when Tabitha
threatened to leave him and the family staged a dramatic intervention that King cleaned
up his act. At the intervention, his family displayed
drug paraphernalia and pills they had collected from the trash. King, with the magnitude of his problem laid
out in front of his eyes and in front of family and friends, made the decision to get sober. Now, he’s been sober for nearly three decades. During the 1990s and into the 21st century,
King continued to be one of the world’s most prolific and well-known writers. His books spawned movies and mini-series,
and over 350 million copies of his books have been sold. After he became so popular, King took the
step of publishing under a pseudonym – Richard Bachman. He wanted to see if he could still get books
published and have them sell without his now-famous name splashed across the front. Turns out, he could. The first book he published under the name
Richard Bachman was “Rage.” Set in King’s familiar world of a Maine
high school, the book tells the story of a teenager who engages in violent acts at his
school. He sets his locker on fire, shoots his algebra
teacher, and attacks another student with a wrench. In 1977, it was a figment of King’s imagination. But in the late 1980s and 1990s, the book
unfortunately started to resemble actual occurrences at schools across the United States. In 1997, after a student shot eight people
at a prayer meeting in Kentucky, it was discovered that he had a copy of Rage in his locker. Disturbed by this, King asked his publisher
to take the book out of print. To this day, Rage remains out of print. Accident Even as his success grew, King remained living
in Maine. The family owns a home in Bangor, and a home
in Lovell near the lakes for the summer. It was near the home in Lovell that King’s
life almost ended in 1999. King was taking a walk along one of the winding,
wooded roads that are so familiar a part of Maine’s landscape. Then, a van smashed into him from behind. King was knocked off the road, into a ditch. Witnesses said he was in a heap and it was
clear his leg was broken. His glasses flew off, and landed in the van
that hit him. At the hospital, he underwent multiple surgeries
and had to do physical therapy as part of his recovery. Bryan Smith, the driver who hit King, had
a track record of driving infractions, including an OUI. The King accident was blamed on the Smith’s
dog distracting him, causing him to swerve into the author. Smith received a six month jail sentence that
was later suspended, and has his license revoked for a year. King was upset … he wanted Smith’s license
revoked for life given his history of bad driving. Only a year after the accident, Smith was
found dead in his trailer at the age of 43. He died of a painkiller overdose, and, in
a twist of fate that seemed straight out of a King novel – he died on King’s birthday,
September 21st. King sustained horrific injuries in the accident,
but he resumed writing only a month after being released from the hospital. He finished the highly regarded “On Writing,”
and in 2000 the book was published, but by 2002 King decided that he simply didn’t
have the strength to keep writing as he had in the past. Where he had previously sat and typed for
hours at a time, it now hurt him to sit for long periods. Addiction had also become part of his life
again. After the accident, he took OxyContin to deal
with the pain from his injuries and became addicted. As he had a decade earlier, he was able to
overcome the addiction and live soberly. The lure of the written word ultimately proved
too strong for his post-accident injuries and struggles, and so King returned to his
craft. He has said that he literally needs to write
to live. What would happen if he didn’t write? “’Oh, I’d be dead. I would have drunk myself to death or drugged
myself to death or committed suicide or some goddamn thing.” Since his accident, he’s published dozens
of stories and books, including Mr. Mercedes, Duma Key, 11/22/63, and Under The Dome. A diehard Red Sox fan, like so many of his
New England neighbors, Stephen King also co-wrote a book after the Red Sox 2004 World Series
win. Faithful: Two Diehard Boston Red Sox Fans
Chronicle the Historic 2004 Season, shared the story of the emotional roller coaster
King and so many other Red Sox fans rode throughout the summer and fall of 2004. In a further display of his eclectic interests
and abillities, King dabbles in music. He played guitar for “The Rock Bottom Remainders,”
a band whose other members you might recognize too: Amy Tan, Dave Barry, and Matt Groening
are only a few of the other celebrities who joined King on stage. And, he even co-wrote a musical with John
Mellencamp. Billed as a “southern gothic supernatural
musical,” Ghost Brothers of Darkland County opened ran for a month at the Alliance Theater
in Atlanta. King is 70 now, but hasn’t run out of ideas…in
fact, he and his son Owen just released a co-written book in 2017. Charitable Work & Political Involvement King is incredibly wealthy – he writes and
sells books at a breathtaking pace. But he doesn’t use his wealth to amass ‘stuff.’ He and Tabitha own three houses – two in Maine
and one in Florida. It’s the house in Maine that is most iconic…located
in Bangor, it’s a huge old Victorian surrounded by a wrought iron fence decorated with bats. From the outside, the house is exactly where
one would expect Stephen King to live. On the inside, it has an indoor swimming pool
and a huge underground library. The houses are extravagant by everyday standards,
but they are really the primary way King prefers to spend money on himself and Tabitha. “I’m not a clothes person. I’m not a boat person. We do have a house in Florida. But we live in Maine, for Christ’s sake. It’s not like a trendy community or anything.” His houses are beautiful, but they don’t
use all of his money … so what does he do with it all? Well, he gives it away, mostly. Or, he invests in projects that support his
interests and his community. A music fan, King has purchased radio stations
in Maine. A huge baseball fan, he funded the construction
of a Little League Field in Bangor. The field is now known as “Field of Screams,”
a tip of the hat to the field’s funder. Together, he and Tabitha run the Stephen and
Tabitha King Foundation. Libraries and colleges, especially the University
of Maine and the Bangor Public Library have benefitted from the Kings’ philanthropy. Maine’s historical societies, fire departments,
arts organizations, and hospitals have also been beneficiaries of the Kings. In a 2001 speech at Vassar College, King made
his view on generosity and charity clear to his audience. “Should you give away what you have? Of course you should. I want you to consider making your lives one
long gift to others, and why not? All you have is on loan, anyway. All you want to get at the getting place,
from the Maserati you may dream about to the retirement fund some broker will try to sell
you on, none of that is real. All that lasts is what you pass on. The rest is smoke and mirrors.” In that same speech, he discussed natural
resources and his dislike of the George W. Bush administration. With the advent of Twitter in the years to
follow, King had an even wider audience to share his political views with. He’s take on President Trump via Twitter,
announcing that the President wasn’t allowed to see the new version of “It” when it
hit theaters in 2017. He’s also made clear in very profane language…we
won’t repeat it here… what he thinks of the President and his administration. Stephen King is a national figure in his own
right. For thirty years he has been affecting the
conversation around pop culture. His books sell by the millions, and his movies
rake in millions of dollars and win Academy Awards. Growing up, he knew he wanted to write, but
he never wanted to do it to achieve the wealth and fame he’s now amassed. His reasoning was much simpler, and it remains
his mantra to this day. “Writing isn’t about making money, getting
famous, getting dates, getting laid, or making friends. In the end, it’s about enriching the lives
of those who will read your work, and enriching your own life, as well.” For over three decades, from his home tucked
away in the northeast corner of the United States, Stephen King has been able to live
out his childhood dream to write for a living. In doing so, he’s brought many of us nightmares
– but they’re nightmares the world gladly welcome as we continue to delve into his stories.

100 thoughts on “Stephen King Biography: The Man Who Almost Didn’t Become a Writer

  1. Want to choose what bio we make a video about? Go here and vote: – We pick the top vote-getter each month to add to biograhpics!

  2. Stephen King noted that the late film critic Pauline Kael called his debut novel CARRIE an unasuming Pot Boiler and he actually understood how she came to that conclusion. Actually I think CARRIE is his most iconic book and a lot more substantial Literary work than just an unassuming Potboiler. There had been other High School novels around like Harrison High by John Farris but I don't think any turned a spotlight on the cruel Institution that a 20th Century Middle Class American High School could be .

  3. Tabby should absolutely get credit for rescuing the early draft of Carrie out of the wastebasket; she is lauded by King fans everywhere. However, it is my opinion, King would have continued writing until he was published because that was his dream. Before Carrie was published, Doubleday almost published Getting It On (which would be renamed Rage, an early Bachman book) and I think Bill Thompson had read The Long Walk and loved it. I truly believe he would have been published regardless. The question is would he be as successful as he is today. Hard to say…probably not.

  4. My now grown daughter once got us a visit from DFACS by smuggling a King book to share at school. Problem was it wasn't "appropriate" for her early grade. She's never lost her love of his books & neither have I. Thanks for this gr8 honest bio. Y'all do it best!

  5. I love SK the writer but boy is he a little butthurt snowflake when it comes to his political affiliation.

  6. I love Stephen's views on charity. He's my all time favorite author, kinda set a high standard for the others i would choose to read from. That being said…The accident must have had a profound effect on him. I remember reading an interview in the early 2000s about how his greatest fear was the thought of waking up broke and having to return to teaching full time. Of course that could just be chocked up to his love for a job he was clearly born to do.

  7. There is a reason his last name is king, he is the greatest writer of all time ty stephen King 4 ur amazing stories

  8. Pretty sure it's illegal for a politician to block anyone on Twitter. King is the one guy who should press this.

  9. I am still surprised that the mind that churns out such terrifying content is such a good and generous person.

  10. Did that REALLY happen?!? The oldest cliche about a man going to buy a pack of smokes…and never returned, or is this poetic license??
    Please, Simon…I GOTTA KNOW!

  11. As I've seen his Bangor house in person I can say it's a gem. And for anyone that hasn't heard him talk, yes be aware of profanity.

  12. Dear God!!! Don't even THINK "what if" when it comes to SK. The thought made me black out the last year minutes. I can recite certain books. Ok, all of them.

  13. Reading= that thing people used to do to activate their imaginations and creativity. It no longer resonates like it did because lazy media, so people on a whole are less creative and less intelligent, and that’s probably able to be proven scientifically.

  14. My first King book was Salems Lot. Was so damn nervous, I couldn't sleep for several weeks. His wife seems like a very sweet lady. Thank you Ms. Tabitha for digging Carrie out of the trash and thus setting the literary world on fire!

  15. Stephen King is one of my favorite authors of all time I think I have almost 20 books I'm not sure paperback and hardback I've been collecting for some time but I have another favorite author and I am hoping that maybe you could do a special on her Miss Anne Rice she is fabulous and she deserves a biopic so if you could please indulge me with your awesome Talent I would appreciate it. Thank you I'm a true fan have a miraculous day!

  16. King and I have the same birthday: September 21st. I love to give gifts, as well. He's my favorite author and I would love to meet him!

  17. I love kings work so so so much. as a child the only movies i watched were stephen king and other horror, and in 4th grade my grandma gave me a copy of pet sematary that i could just barely understand to read. i loved it and reread it over and over. i’m a freshman in highschool now and always keep a king book handy.

  18. From Maine. We share the same b-day, he and I. It's not as rural as you made it out to be. MAINE, that is. It's one of the most beautiful places I've ever seen. You ought to visit.

  19. Smith probably OD'd on painkillers on Stephen King's birthday because of all the angry messages from fans for almost killing their beloved author. I'm guessing, but it wouldn't shock me if it were true…anyone want to research this?

  20. I enjoyed this! Can you PLEASE do a Biography of Clive Barker next? I'm sure that would also be interesting…

  21. I got a compilation of Bachman for Rage. It should stay out of print. It would absolutely be found in more lockers.

  22. I'm from Maine. I lived in Bangor for two years as a teenager. Rode the school bus by his house everyday to 5th street middle school. I now live in Norway, about 15 minutes from Lovell. In the summer I see him at The Center Lovell Store occasionally. Everyone is just like "Hey Steve" like he's just some local dude. He's just super laid back with no stuck up celebrity ego.

  23. Should have named this one. "The man who doesn't know how to finish a book" Haven't read anything of his since I finished the Dark Tower series. After waiting YEARS for the last book… he cheated the ending, AGAIN.

  24. All that money, game, and influence and he is nothing more than a junkie version of that fat, sloven pig, Rosie O'Donnell.

  25. POS. He is a piece of crap. do you remember what he said about the people that got in a train accident and they were all Republicans? Look it up, he's a POS. I won't even watch this crap about him. But you're great, I just don't want to anything to do with this person.

  26. you want a nickel?
    you want a dollar?

    you want a Trump?

    you better holler…

    take out the trash

    and see him gone

    just go go go

    and don’t take long

  27. The 2000 words per day standard means fans don't have to worry if they will survive until the next release. (Unlike another famous author.) Right George??? 😉

  28. I would give my life for Steve king. Simply the greatest writer ever too have been born. If I am wrong ok ….. Step up bitches and prove me wrong. Oh awow yup you lost and Steve won. Sucks huh. G

  29. Best book and movie ever Shawshank redemption. Don't even say I'm wrong. No I'm not. Suck it bitches and take your loss. Stephen is the best . Now and forever. So want to buy it . Hahaha I love that . You lost. G . Love you Sk. All others suck. G

  30. Didn’t know he was an addict to cocaine, so many musicians and either beat it or die . It was the choice of drug those days. Andy gibb was hooked,but beat it also . Then he died later because of the damage. Can you do one of the bee gees

  31. 01:07 Fun? fact: "Going to buy a pack of cigarettes" is, at least in Argentina, sort of slang for "I'm leaving you, family!". Dunno if it was intended or even if it means the same around the world, but it cracked me up. Great video as always!

  32. Stephen King's brother, David, is or was a driver's Ed instructor in Southern Maine/NH and came to my high school. While I didn't go through driver's Ed with him, my wife and many of my other classmates went through his class. I think my mom's reasoning for going to a different instructor after we went to an introduction with him was because David talked about how everyone drives a little over the speed limit and that's okay which didn't sit well with my mom.

  33. You should have mentioned his appearance on " Sons of Anarchy," where he plays a "cleaner," who gets rid of the body of a home health care worker that Tara and Gemma kill. His character could have been straight out of one of his books, and he arrives on set riding what? A red Harley-Davidson Road King. An episode worth watching.

  34. Wrong. King got sober after his directorial debut of Maximum Overdrive. In which he claims was such a horrible experience. That cocaine played a huge part in its failure. Since it made him unreasonable to be around.

  35. He was a great writer but for the last twenty years he has just been a goob. He hasn’t written anything original since…hummmm, ever.

  36. I love Stephen King with my favourites being IT Carrie and the Shining. Why not do an episode on Mary Queen of Scots, Henry the eighth Edgar Allen Poe

  37. Nice to hear from the videos and from the comments below that he seems like a genuinely nice guy. and as a former volunteer firefighter I am of course delighted that he helps out my brother firefighters and urges literacy.

  38. correction: SK started his publishing as a Richard Bachmann (not very successfully), and not after he became famous as SK.

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