Was Pennywise From ‘It’ a Real Person?

There’s been a few Stephen King movie adaptations of his horror novels, with It: Chapter Two being one of the most recently released. Was there a real person who inspired this killer clown/space entity? 

Here’s what we know about this character, portrayed by Bill Skarsgård in the remake. 

Pennywise, the character, could’ve been a real person once 

Fans first met Skarsgård’s adaptation of Pennywise the Clown in 2017, with the first half of the adaptation of Stephen King’s It. When It: Chapter Two premiered, fans learned a little bit more about this character, especially when Beverly wanders into an elderly lady’s home and realizes she might be the daughter of It.

Bustle notes that the scene in the book plays out as a slow burn, with Beverly dismissing each warning sign. That is, until this character says, “My father… His name was Robert Gray, better known as Bob Gray, better known as Pennywise the Dancing Clown.” 

The validity of the story is questionable because Mrs. Kersh eventually became It. Still, it planted the thought that It could be a real person, a human, who had a life before embodying everyone’s greatest fears. 

Bill Skarsgård attends the 'IT: Chapter Two'
Bill Skarsgård attends the ‘IT: Chapter Two’ | Eamonn M. McCormack/Getty Images

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Was Pennywise inspired by a real person?

When it came to the inspiration for this story, of a rag-tag group of kids who have to face their greatest fears, King turned to a well-known fairytale about the fear of the unknown.

“I thought of the fairy tale called ‘The Three Billy-Goats Gruff’ and wondered what I would do if a troll called out from beneath me, ‘Who is trip-trapping upon my bridge?’ All of a sudden I wanted to write a novel about a real troll under a real bridge,” King said of his inspiration. 

“I decided that the bridge could be some sort of symbol — a point of passing,” he continued. “In Stratford, there was a library where the adult section and the children’s section was connected by a short corridor. I decided that the corridor was also a bridge, one across which every goat of a child must risk trip-trapping to become an adult.”

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What real-life events inspired Stephen King’s ‘It’ 

Of course, there was a bit of truth connected to these scares. John Wayne Gacy was a notorious serial killer and sex offender who often dressed as “Pogo the Clown” or “Patches the Clown.” According to Screenrant, King oftentimes cited Ronald McDonald as “a trustworthy character that children know and love, making him someone they can trust.”

The influence of It did extend somewhat to pop culture. Pennywise was believed to have inspired a clown hysteria in 2016, just after the premiere of the It 2017 adaptation, with a rash of scary clown sightings appearing across the United States.

The 2017 adaptation of It is available with a subscription to HBO.