Like many people with fertile imaginations, Stephen King loves movies. He loves them so much, in fact, that he’s appeared in quite a few himself, starting in 1981 with a cameo as a rather slovenly redneck in George A. Romero’s jousting bikers drama, Knightriders (he’s billed as “Hoagie Man”).
Over the years, King has broadened his range to include appearances in not just movies, but in TV shows like The Simpsons and Sons of Anarchy.
He even memorably starred in an American Express commercial in 1985:
For the most part, however, King’s onscreen appearances have been in films and TV series based on his own work, usually in quick, don’t-blink-or-you’ll-miss-him walk-ons but occasionally in a decent-sized supporting role. In those cases, King — who, to be clear, is not giving Michael B. Jordan or Ryan Gosling a run for their money anytime soon — acquits himself nicely enough with the limited material at hand.
His first such effort, actually, was perhaps his biggest role to date. It followed his big screen debut in Knightriders and was a direct result of his friendship and creative partnership with the late, beloved Romero:
Romero cast King in the title role of this classic horror anthology‘s second segment, “The Lonesome Death of Jordy Verrill” (based on the King story “Weeds”), in which a lonely farmer begins to mutate after touching a meteor that lands in his backyard. The segment was played for comedy, and King deftly parodied a certain type of backwoods denizen — not surprising since he grew up in rural Maine himself.
Maximum Overdrive (1986)
This notorious crapfest was based loosely on King’s story “Trucks” and was his first and last turn as a director. Even while directing this campy tale of our machines rebelling against us, King managed to find time to cameo as a man who has an unfortunate exchange with a nasty ATM machine.
Creepshow 2 (1987)
Many of King’s cameos don’t even get a proper name, as in the case of this half-hearted sequel to his and Romero’s 1982 horror anthology hit. Here he’s just known as “Truck Driver” and he’s one of the drivers who stops to report a dead body on the road in the “Hitchhiker” segment.
Pet Sematary (1989)
In the first film version of his bleak novel about an ancient burial ground that revives the dead even as it destroys one normal family, King took on the role of the minister who presides over the funeral of little Gage Creed (Miko Hughes). In his brief scene, Minister King offers a few words of comfort and condolence that end up proving pretty goddamn useless to the doomed Creed clan.
Golden Years (1991)
This largely forgotten seven-part CBS miniseries was written for TV by King and focused on a janitor (Keith Szarabajka) who begins aging backward after being caught in an explosion at a secret government lab. King showed up in episode 5 as a cranky bus driver who really wants to stay on schedule.
Written for the screen by King and directed by Mick Garris (The Stand), Sleepwalkers followed the story of a shapeshifting, incestuous mother and son team who feed off the life energy of human female virgins. Once again relegated to a nameless role, this time as “Cemetery Caretaker,” King stalks angrily through his one scene, bumping into fellow cameo stars Clive Barker and Tobe Hooper along the way.
The Stand (1994)
King and Garris reteamed for this four-night, six-hour miniseries based on the author’s post-apocalyptic epic, and this time Garris gave King a bit more to do as Teddy Weizak, one of the plague survivors who joins the Boulder Free Zone under the leadership of Mother Abigail. Unlike the character in the book, who is decapitated in an explosion, the screen Teddy makes it all the way to the end.
The Langoliers (1995)
One of King’s less well-received miniseries, this weird sci-fi saga takes place on a plane that has become displaced in time. One of the passengers is a mentally deteriorating broker named Craig Toomy (Bronson Pinchot), who hallucinates at one point that he’s confronting his oily, money-hungry boss, Tom Holby — played by the author — just before the title monsters gobble him up.
King’s novel (written under the name Richard Bachman) about a heavyset lawyer who is literally disappearing due to a gypsy’s curse was made into a rather forgettable movie starring one-time RoboCop Robert John Burke. King turns up as a pharmacist, amusingly named Mr. Bangor (that’s King’s hometown for non-diehards).
The Shining (1997)
King was famously so unhappy with Stanley Kubrick’s version of his classic third published novel that he wrote his own miniseries, with pal Mick Garris directing again. While the TV version of The Shining had its strong points, let’s just say that Kubrick’s horror milestone had nothing to worry about. King’s cameo as a spectral bandleader — weirdly named Gage Creed after the dead toddler in Pet Sematary — is cute though as he shows off a few dance moves.
Storm of the Century (1999)
I’ll be honest: it’s been a while since I last watched Storm of the Century — the first King miniseries based not on a novel, but on a quite excellent original teleplay — and I don’t remember King’s cameos in these. But oddly enough, he’s listed as having two: he apparently played a “lawyer in ad” and a “reporter on broken TV” (thanks, IMDB), both uncredited. Maybe they were twins?
Rose Red (2002)
King’s next original teleplay — a Haunting-like tale of a team of psychics investigating a massive haunted house — featured the author in one of his more typical working stiff roles, this time as a pizza delivery guy who brings dinner to the gang and probably deserves a bigger tip for the rude way he’s spoken to.
Kingdom Hospital (2004)
Based on a Danish miniseries created by Lars Von Trier (Antichrist), the American version of the story was developed as a regular TV series by King (who also wrote or co-wrote nine of the 13 episodes). Centering on a haunted hospital, the show only lasted for its one truncated season, but like clockwork, King shows up towards the end as a creepy maintenance man named Johnny B. Goode.
Under the Dome (2014)
King makes one of his briefest cameos ever in the season 2 premiere of this series, which was based on his epic sci-fi tome about a town literally encased in a force field by some sadistic aliens. Here he plays a customer at the town diner who asks for more coffee. Yep, that’s all we’ve got on this one.
Mr. Mercedes (2017)
King returned to a diner in the sixth episode of season 1 of this series, based on his three novels about private detective Bill Hodges. In this scene, the antagonist (the “Mr. Mercedes” of the title) imagines the diner in which he’s sitting turned into the scene of a massacre, with a certain author playing a short order cook and meeting an especially gory demise.
It Chapter Two (2019)
King has one of his most substantial film roles in years in the second half of director Andy Muschietti’s epic adaptation of the author’s iconic 1987 novel. Here he plays the curmudgeonly and somewhat eerie pawn shop owner who sells Bill Denbrough (James McAvoy) the bike that Denbrough rode as a child. The shopkeeper seems a bit…off. Could Pennywise have possibly gotten his teeth into his own maker?
It Chapter Two is in theaters now.
Don Kaye is a Los Angeles-based entertainment journalist and associate editor of Den of Geek. Other current and past outlets include Syfy, United Stations Radio Networks, Fandango, MSN, RollingStone.com and many more. Read more of his work here. Follow him on Twitter @donkaye.