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.