Screencap of Pennywise the Clown from IT

Did John Wayne Gacy Inspire Pennywise From ‘It’?

Of all Stephen King’s creepy and nightmare-inducing creations, Pennywise the Clown is one of the most terrifying. Pennywise appears as the main antagonist in King’s novel It. It is an evil, ancient entity that preys on the children of Derry, Maine every 27 years. Each time it awakens, it manages to go unnoticed by adults and terrorizes the children of the town. During one awakening, a group of children become aware of Pennywise after one boy’s brother, Georgie, goes missing.

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Pennywise has the power to shapeshift and alter reality, which helps It lure in children. It frequently takes on the form of Pennywise the Dancing Clown. Its shapeshifting powers give him the ability to appear as whatever a child is most afraid of. In this way, he preys on their fear, using fear to incapacitate and capture them.

The novel was adapted into a film series in 1990 that featured Tim Curry as It. Then, in 2017 another film adaptation was released starring Bill Skarsgård as Pennywise. It Chapter Two was released in 2019, and there’s potential for a third film, though it hasn’t been confirmed. The character is truly terrifying and builds upon a very common fear of clowns that many have. What is even more terrifying than It, however, is that there are people who actually exist who bear similarity to this monster.

Is Pennywise inspired by John Wayne Gacy?

Many have noticed a chilling resemblance between a man named John Wayne Gacy and Pennywise. Gacy was an American serial killer who was convicted of assaulting, torturing, and murdering at least 33 young men and boys. Gacy sometimes nabbed his victims by force, but others he duped into believing he was a police officer by flashing a fake badge. Once in his home, he would frequently trick his victims into letting him place handcuffs on them, in the pretense of showing them a magic trick.

During the period in which Gacy committed his murders, he joined the “Jolly Joker” clown club. Members of this group performed at fundraising events and entertained hospitalized children. Gacy created his own clown characters “Pogo the Clown” and “Patches the Clown” and performed at numerous parties, charitable events, and children’s hospitals. Sometimes, after these performances, he would remain in his clown garb while getting a drink. Haunting photos of his clown costume have surfaced and have led many to dub him the “Killer Clown.”

Gacy was sentenced to death about 6-years before It was published. Hence, the speculation about whether King’s book was inspired by Gacy’s story. On the surface, they do share some similarities, particularly the clown makeup and serial killing. However, there is no evidence that Pennywise was inspired by Gacy. King has discussed his inspirations before and has never made any mention of Gacy. If there are some aspects of Gacy that were incorporated into Pennywise, King never acknowledged or confirmed it. Many individuals erroneously take it as a fact that Gacy inspired Pennywise, but this has never been proven.

(featured image: Warner Bros.)


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Rachel Ulatowski
Rachel Ulatowski is a Staff Writer for The Mary Sue, who frequently covers DC, Marvel, Star Wars, literature, and celebrity news. She has over three years of experience in the digital media and entertainment industry, and her works can also be found on Screen Rant, JustWatch, and Tell-Tale TV. She enjoys running, reading, snarking on YouTube personalities, and working on her future novel when she's not writing professionally. You can find more of her writing on Twitter at @RachelUlatowski.