Stephen King, the drunk Master of Thrillers who can’t recall most of the Eighties

The legendary writer Stephen King at work.

The legendary writer Stephen King at work.

It seems like almost every brilliant writer in history was a huge drunkard too. From Mark Twain to Ernest Hemingway, they knew their way around the bottle. And Stephen King (1947) was no exception to that rule. The legendary writer, who was most known for his thrillers and horror stories, drank so much he claims he doesn’t remember writing most of his work from the Eighties. His most famous book The Shining, about an alcoholic aspiring writer who wants to kill his own son, is based on King’s own drunken rages at the time. But unlike Jack Nicholson (‘Here’s Johnny!’) in the filmed version of The Shining, the writer never tried to hurt anyone. King just got smashed and wrote an enormous amount of books and shorts stories.

Stephen King’s drinking habbits are pretty well described in his biography Haunted Hearts by Lisa Rogak. Basically King has always been quite miserable and scared, suffering from numerous phobias all through his life. To escape from these fears he initially had two ways: writing about them and drinking. As a kid growing up in Maine (USA) King already had nightmares about crows picking out the eyes of his mother and a phobia for clowns. Both the birds and the jesters were later useful subjects for his horror stories. As the young writer’s drinking really picked up in his student days at the University of Maine. In that time King for example got arrested for stealing traffic cones after a drunken night in the town.

As more and more of King’s early writings got rejected by potential publishers, he started to drink more. A development that didn’t stop after his first big hit Carrie in 1974. When King got drunk he noticed he often got agressive feelings towards his own children and wanted to physically hurt them. These thoughts scared him and he decided to write about it in the hope that these feelings would dissapear. The result was his most famous book The Shining, about a drunken father that wants to kill his own kid.

King managed to keep his drunken agression towards his children under control but nevertheless kept drinking heavily. He went to book signings drunk and at some point during the Seventies his wife Tabitha King kicked him out of the house. Some of his own quotes from a feature called Booze & Writer from 1978 may give some extra insight in King’s drinking at the time:

Drinking Habits: Somewhere in that great middle ground between medium and heavy. Beer. A lot of beer.

Hangouts: I drink mostly at home. When I’m in Boston, I drink at the Baseball Tavern across from Fenway Park. When I’m in New York, I like to go up to the top of the Beekman Tower. But mostly at home.

Drinking Companions: I like to drink alone. I never get ugly when I drink too much, I never bore myself with a lot of dull conversation, and I have never yet invited myself to step outside. Otherwise, I like to go drinking with my editor, Bill Thompson. He also never gets ugly, never wants to lay on a lot of boring raps, and has never invited me outside. Of course, he spent a lot of time down South and as a result drinks a lot of very strange drinks, but this is acceptable. After all, the Civil War has been over a long time.

On Writing and Drinking: Yes, there’s an affinity between drinking and writing. You can see the connection in the lives of Hemingway, Dylan Thomas, and William (“Don’t ask me what that sentence means, I wrote it when I was drunk”) Faulkner. I like to write when I’m drunk. I’ve never had any particular problem writing that way, although I never wrote anything that was worth a dime while under the influence of pot or any of the hallucinogenics. I think that alcohol is an extremely benign poison. I wrote one novel, The Shining, that was more or less about the terrors of living with the destructive drunk —and I have known one of two in my lifetime—but I have never been particularly destructive while under the influence myself. Writers who drink constantly do not last long, but a writer who drinks carefully is probably a better writer. It may be that the main effect of the grain or the grape on the creative personality is that necessary sense of newness and freshness, that feeling that the world of sense and feeling can be grasped. Those are feelings we tend to lose as we grow older. I know that as well as anyone, I think, because I’m only 30—and you tend to start losing that crazy and wonderful sense of cocksureness sometime around 25 … at about the same time that you discover that sex may not be the only possible definition of living. Viewed in that way, drinking is a crutch. But nobody gets through life without a crutch or two. And basically, writers are no different from anyone else. If I were a plumber, my drinking habits would probably be the same.

Especially that last one is a great quote, although as we know now not entirely true since King’s own drunken anger was the main inspiration for The Shining. However, his real problems started in the Eighties when he started doing lots of cocaine. In order to drink more or stay awake to write more, King suffered many of nose bleedings caused by snorting. This decenium he actually got quite a lot of work done till the overkill of stimulants finally got him his first ever writer’s block in 1989. He decided to quit all drugs, including alcohol and says he’s clean ever since.

With that the world may have lost a great drinker, but as booze is known to trigger old vices this may not be such a bad thing. Plus drinking to surpress things and to drink alone are two nasty habbits. So is forgetting about a complete decade by the way. Nevertheless, a single look at Stephen King’s bibiography proves the amazing creativity of a great mind on alcohol.

Micky Bumbar

More drinkers that left their mark on the world’s history

14 thoughts on “Stephen King, the drunk Master of Thrillers who can’t recall most of the Eighties

    • Hahaha same here… Minus the bleeding coke nose that is. Nothing beats good old alcohol! 😀

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    • Amen to that! Well in total he never stopped for more than half a year devided over 1989 and 1990. Not that bad for a guy who can’t remember a decade and drank heavily for more than 2! 😀

      Liked by 1 person

  1. Really enjoyed this, cheers for the piece. I’m always interested in how it changed his writing too (drinking/sobriety), and you can really see it- take The Shinning or Misery for example… Really taught and tense, then his later works, way different…

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    • Glad you liked it. Yeah, drunk or sober one can be a complete different person. Which writer did you like best?
      Cheers,
      Micky

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      • Yeah it’s what I thought. For me the same by the way, as I also find rockers less good when they turn sober, but this could have to do with lack of credibility. Anyway, saw an awesome doc yesterday on Motörhead’s Lemmy. It was inspiring: live a short but intense life, doing what you love or set aside some temptations and live longer (hopefully also happy).
        Cheers,
        Micky

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  2. Agreed man, well, the good stories aren’t told by the weathermen. And it’s bizarre, but your statement is true, and R.I.P. Lemmy, there wasn’t any swaying that fella.

    Cheers again Micky, and thanks for writing some decent drinking posts, a damn rare thing!
    Na Zdorovie!

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Make no mistake, King is still a substance abuser. He never quit. Today he’s just a cynical has-been recluse who is still vomiting cough syrup onto his keyboard.

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  4. You have got to be one of the most ignorant people I have ever had the displeasure of encountering. I’m going to set aside any arguments of fact in regards to this blog post, because I simply want to focus on the fact that you are criticisizing a writer, and one of the most prolific and successful of this day and age, when you obviously don’t know how to form a complete sentence. You are a prime example of a toddler telling an adult that the sky is green. Just because you wish it to be so does not make it so. You can publish a million blog posts, nay, a trillion, and you will still never begin to approach the waning horizon of Stephen King’s worst written work. Pick up a dictionary, a thesaurus, and take an English class or two. Once you’ve learned to write at a fifth grade level, do the world a favor and redo this blog.

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    • Dear mister Learnto Readgood,
      You are clearly a great observer, since you quickly figured out that this post is one giant review on Stephen King’s books. Not at all about his drinking habbits. Since you seem to have the English dictionary at home, that I’m clearly missing, you might want to look up the word sarcasm first, then go back some pages and check out the word retard. Next time you have something to say, be a man and at least use your real name.
      Cheers,
      Micky

      Like

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