Stephen King is one of the most popular and best-selling authors of all time, and more recently his work has begun to earn consideration as literature. However, he’s also a recovering addict, a topic about which he’s been very open and at times strikingly honest. His years of struggle with drugs and alcohol run through his work as well, and can be seen not only in the dark experience reflected in his characters, but also in creative decisions that were, at times, so utterly bonkers that they could only have come from a heavily altered state of consciousness.
King’s addictions play heavily into his written moments of drug abuse, character development around alcoholism, and other serious topics that allow readers a glimpse into the horror of substance abuse from the writer's true, firsthand perspective.
Many consider King’s massive novel It to be one of his masterpieces. But even its most ardent fans likely hesitate at the description of group intercourse between its band of young heroes. Plucky outsider Beverly Marsh initiates sex with all six of her fellow (male) members of the Losers’ Club following their confrontation with the titular clown monster. The passage goes into graphic detail, covering the encounter with each boy and lasting almost 10 pages of text.
King claims he intended it as a comment on the transition between childhood and adulthood:
I wasn’t really thinking of the sexual aspect of it. The book dealt with childhood and adulthood - 1958 and Grown Ups. The grown ups don’t remember their childhood. None of us remember what we did as children - we think we do, but we don’t remember it as it really happened. Intuitively, the Losers knew they had to be together again. The sexual act connected childhood and adulthood. It’s another version of the glass tunnel that connects the children’s library and the adult library. Times have changed since I wrote that scene and there is now more sensitivity to those issues.
Unsurprisingly, neither the 1990 TV miniseries nor the 2017 theatrical film included the scene.
The Dark Half - originally conceived as a work by King’s alter-ego Richard Bachman - concerns Thad Beaumont, who writes crime novels under a pseudonym. That pseudonym takes on a murderous life of its own, thanks in part to a twin Thad absorbed in the womb. In one notable scene, a neurosurgeon removes pieces of that absorbed twin from Thad’s brain, including teeth, fingernails and a functioning eyeball.
King reportedly got clean soon after finishing the novel.
King himself admits entirety of The Tommyknockers was co-authored by cocaine: overlong, rambling and weird in ways that have to be seen (or read) to be believed. It tells the story of a spaceship crashed in the Maine woods, which has a disturbing effect on the residents of the nearby town. They begin to slowly turn into aliens while reworking existing Earth technology into futuristic gadgets - including a floating Coca-Cola vending machine that fires cans of soda at lethal velocities. It’s taken out by the local authorities, who joke about violating its civil rights.
“The Tommyknockers is an awful book,” King told Rolling Stone. "That was the last one I wrote before I cleaned up my act. And I’ve thought about it a lot lately and said to myself, 'There’s really a good book in here, underneath all the sort of spurious energy that cocaine provides, and I ought to go back.'"
The lengthy short story "The Ballad of the Flexible Bullet" originally appeared in The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction in 1984, during King’s self-admitted cocaine peak, and reappeared in his anthology Skeleton Crew in 1985. It involves a pair of writers who descend into madness, believing that tiny spirits called “fornits” live in their typewriters and help them compose.
At one point, the narrator experiences a drunken hallucination in which his own fornit pounds out a warning on his typewriter with its tiny little fists. King has never commented on the potentially autobiographical inspiration that may have spawned such a story.