The Life-Altering Heart Condition That Kept John Wayne Gacy Out Of Most Of High School

"Killer Clown" John Wayne Gacy shared a common thread with many of his serial murderer contemporaries: a childhood that was far less than ideal. His father was an abusive alcoholic, often making a young Gacy suffer the wrath of his drinking by putting him on the receiving end of a strap (via Biography). As a child, Gacy witnessed the dominant man in his life inflict the same abuse on his sisters and would be forced to stand by and watch his father physically assault his mother.

Gacy was named after famed film actor John Wayne, the hero in dozens of war and western pictures popular in that era (per A&E). But Gacy was far from the film icon whose name he shared. Much to the disappointment of his father, Gacy was unpopular, overweight, and unathletic. Paired with the severe physical abuse was the berating young Gacy was forced to endure from his father. Disgusted with his son, the elder Gacy would call him a "sissy" for not being able to be the boy he wished him to be.

Gacy turned his affections toward his mother, who it's said would sometimes allow Gacy to dress in her clothing. As Gacy grew older, he struggled with his attraction to other boys, something he would later say his father "would have killed him" for feeling, if he knew about it. Further complicating Gacy's childhood experience was a defect in his heart. This would lead to him not only being unable to be physically active, but would keep him from regularly attending school.

Gacy's condition angered his father

In a story published by The New Yorker shortly before Gacy was executed in May 1994, it's revealed that Gacy suffered from a congenital heart defect. Under the doctor's orders, he was not to participate in sports, which may have led to a little bit of coddling by his mother. The lack of activity meant that Gacy would suffer from being overweight virtually his entire life, another "failure" in the eyes of his abusive father. 

The defect may have caused Gacy to experience the fainting spells he began having when he was 11. ThoughtCo. reveals that Gacy would have blackouts, leaving him hospitalized for several months at a time. These increased absences from school would continue into his teenage years. At an age when he should have been studying, socializing with friends, and enjoying his youth, Gacy was either in the hospital or home under the thumb of his controlling father. Infamost reports that altogether, he only attended high school for the equivalent of a year.

Gacy's increased absences made it difficult for the teen to participate in his academics. As high school moved forward, Gacy fell further and further behind. At 16, Gacy decided to drop out entirely, perhaps feeling it was impossible to ever catch up. Dropping out of school didn't bode well with Gacy's father. This was just another negative mark against his son, as far as the elder Gacy was concerned. Feeling like a failure in so many ways and wanting to escape the turmoil of his parents' home, Gacy ran off to Las Vegas when he was 20 to start a new life.

Gacy eventually earned his diploma in prison

Gacy's adventures in Sin City didn't last too long. He worked at an ambulance service, and later as an attendant in a local mortuary. It was here that Gacy climbed into a coffin to fondle the corpse of a deceased teen boy. Perhaps shocked by his desires, he left Vegas to return home to Chicago, having only made it on his own for 90 days (via ThoughtCo.).

Gacy seemed to get his life under control, overcoming the medical issues that plagued him throughout his youth. He married young and moved with his new bride to Iowa. There, he managed several Kentucky Fried Chicken restaurants for his new father-in-law. He became active in his new community, particularly with his heavy involvement with the local chapter of the junior Jaycees. He became a father to two children as well. This new life wasn't destined to last long, either. Gacy would soon find himself serving time in prison for sexually assaulting two teenage boys.

He managed to make good use of his time behind bars, though. He excelled at his job in the prison kitchen and even managed to earn all of the credits he needed to finally get his high school diploma. Gacy was paroled in 1970 and had a fresh start at life. He returned to Chicago to live with his now-widowed mother, who helped him begin a successful contracting business. Unfortunately, it was during this new-found life that Gacy would begin a murder spree that would ultimately leave 33 young men and boys dead.