Was Stephen King’s IT Based On a True Story?
Pennywise the Clown is one of the most horrifying horror movie slashers to ever grace the screen! Many people only think of Stephen King’s IT from the new hit remake in 2017, but, the original TV mini-series was released in 1990. Pennywise is the star of both films. He is a super creepy clown who can manifest a number of spiritual and psychological anomalies. Purely focusing on Pennywise as a clown, however, is scary enough. And there have been a lot of weird imitations throughout the years following the miniseries, a lot of people wonder if the killer clown became from an inspiration of its own.
Is Pennywise the Clown Real?
No. Pennywise the Clown himself is not real. Stephen King himself has composed a small write up which he posted directly on his website, explaining his original inspiration for the idea of IT and the fictional, killer clown.
Did You Know?
Despite popular belief, Pennywise the Clown was not based off of John Wayne Gacy.
What Was the Inspiration for Pennywise the Clown and IT?
Ironically, the idea spawned from the famous fairy tale known as “The Three Billy-Goats Gruff”, by which a troll haunts the underside of a bridge. The story is simple: unsuspecting souls passing along the bridge are harassed by the evil troll. As time evolved, King realized the fear mostly resonated with children.1
Beyond The Inspiration: Real Life Pennywise Situations
Some real life incidents have occurred which strike an eerie, uncanny resemblance to Pennywise and It.
John Wayne Gacy
Despite the fact that John Wayne Gacy was not the inspiration for Pennywise the clown, he was still a clown-killing menace to society. He was a very sinister rapist and serial killer who targeted young boys and men. His stage name, “Pogo the Clown,” allowed him access to all types of charity events. This creepy killer would lure victims to his home, trick them into handcuffs, sexually torture them, and then murder them (usually by strangling them). The bodies were dumped in a river, stored in his crawlspace, or buried on his land.2
Still, despite many popular outlets naming John Wayne Gacy as the “inspiration for it” or the “real life clown killer” from IT, Gacy was definitely not where Stephen King came up with the idea.
There is a very eerie trend of people dressing up as killer clowns and scaring the heck out of unsuspecting people. Most of the time, these people are in the public and do not know the clown-wearing fools. These clowns present themselves in alleyways, around grunge-like corners, and on dark streets. They consider it to be a prank. It was such a popular trend in 2016 that it made national news several times.3 While these clowns have not been slaughtering children, they are still one of the closest, creepiest comparisons to Pennywise.
Sheila Keen is originally from Florida, but moved to the mountains of Virginia after she doned a clown outfit and murdered poor Marlene Warren. She bought some balloons and a crafty note that read “You’re the Greatest!” and approached Warren at her home. Keen then drew a .38 caliber revolver and fired a single shot into Warren’s face. Warren died two days later in the hospital.4 Although it was just a single murder, motivated by passion (she later married the victim’s husband), it was a memorable clown killing.
Like John Wayne Gacy, the award-winning Belgian clown Kevin Lapeire, aka “Doctor Aspirin”, used to entertain sick children and charity events. But then he doned his costume for more sinister uses, murdering a poor mother of three right in front of her children. Doctor Aspirin murdered out of passion (much like Keen), after a relationship went sour and met break up. Ultimately, Lapeire would detain the three children in binds, terrorize them throughout the night, and murder their mother. He also lassoed his friend into the crime. After they separated, Lapeire would bring police to an intense, Facebook-streamed standoff that lasted hours before he surrendered.5
Final Words on Pennywise
Plenty of creepy clowns have been haunting the world, both before and after Stephen King’s popular horror flick. Unfortunately, there have also been many killer clowns. Some of them are much more viscous than others. Obviously, however, anyone can wear a clown costume. Regardless of what real life clown incidents may exist similar to Stephen King’s It, Pennywise will always remain a naturally terrifying asset to the horror movie community!
1King, S., (2019). IT: Inspiration. StephenKing.com. Retrieved from: https://www.stephenking.com/library/novel/it_inspiration.html
2A&E (April 2014). The “John Wayne Gacy Biography”. A&E Television Networks. Retrieved on September 1, 2019.
3Willingham, AJ. (October 10, 2016). What’s with all the clowns everywhere? 6 legit possibilities. Cnn Health. Retrieved from: https://www.cnn.com/2016/10/05/health/creepy-clowns-rumors-trnd/index.html
4CBS News. The Search for a Killer Clown. CBS News. Retrieved from: https://www.cbsnews.com/pictures/the-search-for-a-killer-clown/11/ on September 1, 2019.
5Crisp, J., (May 15, 2018). Belgian clown ‘murdered’ mother in front of her children after roping in sidekick in alleged revenge plot. The Telegraph. Retrieved from: https://www.telegraph.co.uk/news/2018/05/15/belgian-clown-murdered-mother-front-children-roping-sidekick/
Tritone’s love of horror and mystery began at a young age. Growing up in the 80’s he got to see some of the greatest horror movies play out in the best of venues, the drive-in theater. That’s when his obsession with the genre really began—but it wasn’t just the movies, it was the games, the books, the comics, and the lore behind it all that really ignited his obsession. Tritone is a published author and continues to write and write about horror whenever possible.