In the novel
Stillson is introduced in the novel at the beginning of the book as a struggling traveling salesman for a Bible-printing company in 1955. During a stop at a house in rural Iowa, Stillson is attacked by the absent homeowners' dog and, enraged, sprays ammonia in the animal's eyes before beating it to death. As he drives away, Stillson comes to the realization that he is destined for greatness. It is revealed later that Stillson held a series of odd occupations in the years following this incident, among them being a successful rain maker.
Eventually Stillson moves to Ridgeway, New Hampshire in 1971, where he becomes an active leader in local business and politics. He blackmails Sonny Elliman, the leader of a biker gang called the Devil's Dozen, into becoming his hired thug and, later, his head of security during his political campaign. Stillson also develops a reputation in Ridgeway for his ability to "straighten out" delinquent teenagers, a clandestine process that often involves physical and emotional torture.
Stillson campaigns for the United States House of Representatives as an independent in 1976. He gains national attention for his unconventional behavior during rallies, often donning a construction helmet and making bizarre campaign promises, such as sending air pollution into outer space in plastic bags. Meanwhile, Stillson's security detail, led by Elliman and his fellow bikers, are implicated in several beatings involving rally attendees.
Psychic Johnny Smith first attends a Stillson rally in the town of Trimbull, New Hampshire. When he and Stillson shake hands, Smith sees a vision of Stillson being sworn in as President of the United States many years into the future. As he eventually relates in a letter to his father, Smith comes to believe that President Stillson will worsen an international conflict originating in South Africa, starting a full-scale nuclear war. Smith estimates that up to twenty countries will use nuclear arms during the war, as well as terrorist groups. The experience of the vision not only horrifies Smith but Stillson too, and Stillson's men almost assault the psychic.
Stillson is elected congressman on election night. He proves so popular during his first term that he is re-elected in a landslide. Shortly following his re-election, he creates a conservative political action committee called the America Now Party. Smith, with the terrible knowledge of Stillson's future deeds, contemplates attacking or assassinating the congressman. Soon after saving the life of a boy he was tutoring from a deadly roadhouse fire, Smith leaves New Hampshire and finds a public works job in Phoenix, Arizona. However, after suffering from a severe seizure on the job and discovering a brain tumor, he realizes he has precious little time to deal with Stillson.
Smith arrives in Jackson, New Hampshire, which is to host a town hall meeting featuring Stillson the following day. Posing as a news photographer, Smith finds a decent sniper's nest in the town hall's second floor gallery, with a clear view of the podium. The next day, Smith takes his place there in hiding as the rally begins. However, when he decides to shoot the politician, he misses several times. Stillson grabs a nearby child and uses him as a human shield. Smith then hesitates to shoot Stillson and is himself subsequently shot and mortally wounded.
His efforts are not in vain, however; a news photographer Smith had met earlier took a picture of Stillson cowering behind the child, and gets away from Stillson's bodyguards. Smith touches Stillson again when they meet the final time, discovering that he has changed the future and that Stillson will never come to power. With this knowledge, Smith dies content. It is implied that Stillson's political career ends in disgrace after the damning photo of him holding the child against Smith's fire is published.
In the film
Following the publication of photographs showing Stillson using a child as a shield from Smith's attack, Stillson commits suicide and Smith is able to prevent the apocalyptic vision he had about him, when he shook hands with him.
He is basically described the same way as in the novel.
In the TV series
Stillson (played by Sean Patrick Flanery) appeared in thirteen episodes of the series over six seasons. The series provides the character with a backstory established in a number of flashbacks, in which his con artist father molds him into a sociopath through years of abuse. He encounters Johnny Smith for the first time when they are both nine years old; Smith suffers a vague vision and passes out upon meeting him. By the time he is an adult, Stillson is willing to destroy anyone who stands in the way of the "greatness" he sees in himself.
By the time the series begins, Stillson has been elected Mayor of Cleaves Mills, Maine. He passes Smith's car accident on his way to the office of Charlie Richardson, where he and his right-hand-man Sonny Elliman threaten to throw Richardson out of a fifth story window if he doesn't stop leaking stories of Stillson's sordid dealings to the press. The day that Smith wakes from his coma, Stillson is sworn in as a member of the Maine House of Representatives.
Stillson does not appear until the end of the first season, though he is mentioned as an up-and-coming politician as early as the pilot episode. Stillson first appears in a 2002 television interview in "Destiny", explaining his campaign platform of strong morality as he runs for Maine's 2nd congressional district.
In the privacy of his campaign trailer after the interview, however, Stillson shows his true colors by manipulating a 20-year-old campaign volunteer into having sex with him. His father chastises him, and also rebukes Sonny Elliman for not keeping him in check. Soon after, Stillson visits a disaster site to make a speech. The cabal of reporters abandons the speech, however, when they spot Johnny Smith, who had saved hundreds lives by foreseeing the disaster. The two encounter each other again soon after.
Stillson was also played by Daniel Best in "Destiny."
After watching a television documentary about Smith in "Valley of the Shadow", Stillson delivers an impassioned speech at Cleaves Mills High School, where Smith and his high school sweetheart, Sarah Bracknell, are in attendance. Following the speech, he asks Sarah's opinion on his platform and receives a scathing review; Stillson instructs Elliman to find out more about her. Finally, on his way out, he meets Smith again and shakes his hand.
In "Scars", Stillson recruits Sarah onto his campaign team, partially to learn why Smith is so interested in him, and partially to fuel his quest to unseat incumbent Congressman Harrison Fisher. He also meets with Smith in a diner, offering to get the psychic connected after he wins office, and warning Smith to stop investigating his past. Smith retaliates by helping Stillson's rival best him in a debate.
That night, Stillson discusses the political fallout of the debate with Elliman, venting his growing hatred for the "goddamn crippled freak" Smith. At a reception for the Daughters of the American Revolution at the Governor's Mansion, Stillson has sex with a girl in the handicapped stall of the bathroom before Elliman notifies him that Smith is in attendance. Elliman runs across Smith on his way out of the Governor's Mansion and tells him to steer clear of Stillson. He punches Smith after Smith pushes him, giving Smith a vision of their conversation with Harper.
A few days later, Stillson faces Fisher in the final night of the campaign debate, and Fisher confronts Stillson on his campaign contribution cap. Fisher brings up the possibility of a $6 million contribution, and Stillson declares that he would never accept more than $2,500; Fisher vows to hold Stillson to his word before withdrawing from the race because of an atrocity he was involved with in that occurred during his time in the Vietnam War. After winning the debate by default, Stillson meets with Smith in a diner again to thank him for exposing Fisher's past. He also learns how Fisher found out about the Harper Lumber offer, and makes Smith an offer of his own: to "join forces" and put their combined resources behind Stillson's political career. Smith summarily declines the offer.
In "Dead Men Tell Tales", Stillson and Elliman attend a party hosted by mobster Cathan Donnegal and discuss business possibilities following the adoption of Proposition 151; Donnegal also "loans" his girlfriend, Nina, to Stillson for the evening. Publicly, Stillson called for the defeat of Prop. 151, "the Indian casino initiative", claiming that bringing gambling into Maine will invite "crime and moral decay." He later walks in on Sarah and Smith discussing the option of Sarah quitting Stillson's campaign, and declares that he'd be lost without her. Stillson then moves into a private office with Smith and Elliman and confesses to his quiet promotion of the casino initiative, which he thought "would be an economic boon" to the region. Smith explains that Donnegal believes someone sent an assassin to kill him, and he thinks that someone might be Stillson; Elliman threatens Smith to "be careful what [he] tell[s] Donnegal."
In "Finding Rachel (Part 1)", Stillson hires Faith Heritage graduate student and filmmaker Rachel Caldwell as his Director of Media Relations to produce a documentary following his congressional campaign, and the two eventually form a romantic relationship. Later, his assistant, Jake Truax, demonstrates a new digital voting machine for Stillson and his father that would fudge votes in Stillson's direction in the upcoming Congressional election. Rachel walks in as the demonstration is wrapping up, and while she doesn't see anything incriminating, Stillson's father grows suspicious of her involvement with his son.
At the Bangor Civic Center, Rachel shoots footage of Stillson's rally speech, which is attended by Sarah, Eugene Purdy, and Smith. The next day, Stillson is interviewed by Sheriff Walter Bannerman and learns that Rachel had gone missing the previous night. Stillson lies to the sheriff about the nature of his relationship with Rachel, claiming that it was "strictly professional", and promises the resources of his office in the search. He also receives a visit from Rachel's sister Rebecca, then discusses the need to contain Smith's investigations with his father and Elliman. He instructs Elliman to dig into Faith Heritage and find something they could use to persuade Purdy to help put Smith off.
Soon after, Stillson and Elliman meet surreptitiously with Faith Heritage chief financial officer Mike Kennedy, blackmailing the lawyer with photographs of Kennedy's outlandish sexual activities. Stillson and Elliman later shake down Purdy for the finances remaining in Smith's trust fund to finance a last-ditch campaign push. The next day, Stillson holds a press conference to ask for the public's help in finding Rachel Caldwell, and Rebecca presents a statement as well describing her sister.
Campaigning on the street, Stillson runs across Smith, who is not subtle in his implication that Stillson was involved in Rachel's disappearance. Stillson threatens to go after Smith if he learns that anything happened to Rachel. Later, he discusses the progress of the search with his father and Elliman, and the elder Stillson chastises him for hiring Rachel in the first place. Finally, Stillson watches Smith's arrest on television while getting a massage from his assistant, Linda.
Several days later, in "Finding Rachel (Part 2)", Stillson, his father, Elliman, and Linda watch a news broadcast outlining the congressional race, with Stillson at 28%, Republican candidate Melissa Klock at 31%, and Democratic candidate Steven Hansz at 32%. They then see an update on Smith's arrest as the psychic continues to be questioned by the Cleaves Mills police; Stillson gives Elliman a stack of photographs of Smith's "Armageddon Board" with instructions to distribute them anonymously to the press in order to expedite Smith's public demise.
The next day, Stillson supervises the production and distribution of thousands of missing-posters for Rachel, before advising Sarah to steer clear of Smith during the investigation for the sake of her husband's public image. Later, Stillson meets with his father, Truax, and Elliman to discuss the shifting poll numbers, and they determine to "borrow a trick from friends in Florida" by discounting voters with a name even remotely similar to any convicted felon. Elliman gets a call from Mike Kennedy and arranges a meeting with him, shooting Kennedy in his car and staging the scene to look like a suicide on the Faith Heritage campus.
Stillson attends the election polls with his cadre and puts in a vote for himself, playing dumb with the new digital equipment. Later that night, after the polls close, Stillson is announced the winner; as the victory party rages, Stillson walks in on Sarah searching his office and attempts to seduce her, with the promise of political power by his side. His sexual advances are cut off when Bruce Lewis bursts into the office, giving Sarah an opportunity to escape.
At the victory party, Stillson delivers an impassioned speech and learns from Truax that he won the election by one percent of the vote. Later, after Smith has been exonerated by a suicide note forged by Purdy under Kennedy's name that claimed responsibility for Rachel Caldwell's murder, Stillson meets with Purdy to pick up Kennedy's remaining funds.
Stillson later meets with Purdy after Kennedy's body is exhumed in "Tipping Point," prompted by one of Smith's visions; Stillson warns Purdy that any investigation into Kennedy's death would only hurt Faith Heritage. Stillson discusses the "Justice For All" bill with his father — a piece of legislation being renamed "Rachel's Law" — when Truax warns him that Bannerman and Smith are reinvestigating Rachel's murder. That night, Stillson watches a news broadcast in which Purdy admits that he fabricated Kennedy's suicide note in order to secure Smith's release.
The next day, Stillson is visited by Rebecca Caldwell and Smith, and discusses "Rachel's Law" with her, requesting that she attend the bill-signing ceremony in Washington, D.C. Rebecca declines the offer, but Smith holds out a hand for Stillson, and who takes it; Smith collapses from the resulting vision, and Stillson phones for paramedics.
In "Broken Circle", Truax persuades Stillson to take on Malcolm Janus as a new senior consultant. He also informs Stillson that Smith is due to undergo brain surgery that may destroy his psychic ability, thus eliminating him as a threat to the continuing Stillson campaign. Later, Stillson is visited by Rebecca Caldwell, who has reconsidered his offer and decided to publicly endorse "Rachel's Law" by attending the bill-signing. After sending Rebecca to a secretary to arrange the details, Stillson's father warns him not to "make the same mistake [he] made with her sister", the implication being that keeping Rebecca so close will keep Rachel's murder in the news, which could sink the campaign. Stillson asserts that he was not involved in the death. His father then orders Elliman to place wiretaps in Rebecca's apartment to keep watch on her.
Stillson receives a visit from Federal Marshal Pendragon, who warns the congressman that Smith has escaped the hospital where he was due to undergo brain surgery, and is likely headed to the Capitol. After Smith discovers the wiretaps in Rebecca's apartment, Elliman makes quick work of clearing out the equipment, but is caught by Bannerman and winds up in an altercation with the sheriff.
On the morning of the bill signing, Stillson greets Rebecca as she arrives at the courthouse, and the two are quickly hustled inside when federal agents spot Smith near the periphery of the scene. Stillson skirts the press and steers Rebecca to his campaign suite upstairs. There, Stillson attempts to seduce Rebecca, but she slips into the bathroom. She emerges a moment later with her purse in hand, seconds before Smith bursts into the suite and takes it, claiming that Stillson did not kill Rachel: his father did.
Stillson is shocked by the revelation, but later learns from his father that Smith was telling the truth; he admitted to killing Rachel "to protect" his son, as well as speaking ill of his late wife, Greg's mother. In a fit of rage, Stillson strangles his father. He is then approached for the first time by Janus, who coaches the distraught congressman through the tremulous first days after his father's death. Janus quickly becomes Stillson's primary advisor, replacing Truax.
In "Vanguard", Stillson authorizes House Appropriations subsidies to fund the biomedical Portland Chemical firm in Maine, whose research would in turn provide soft money for Stillson's continuing campaign; Stillson meets with representative Judith Peck to discuss their mutually beneficial agendas. Stillson later meets with Purdy during a Congressional recess to press him for more funding from the Faith Heritage Alliance. When Purdy refuses, Janus cuts off Faith Heritage's satellite feeds until Purdy complies.
Stillson and Janus also discuss the work of Portland Chemical engineer Dr. Alex Connors, and Stillson informs his advisor that Connors was a student of Johnny Smith's. Stillson later visits with Connors at his Portland Chemical lab and learns that Connors and Smith are "finished" following a falling-out over Connors' current work. After meeting with Connors, Stillson tells Janus that Smith must be kept out of Connors' work to keep the funds flowing.
Later, Janus arranges a meeting between Stillson and Maine Senator Harlan Ellis, and by proxy, his daughter Miranda. Leaving the Ellis estate, Stillson runs into Smith, who offers to steer clear of Stillson if he lets go of Connors and his work. Stillson agrees, but goes against the deal the moment that Smith is out of the car, ordering Connors kidnapped.
Over the next several months, Stillson and Miranda become romantically involved; when Stillson learns that Miranda's father did not allow her to attend her senior prom, he swears to "never deny [her] happiness." At some point, Stillson confesses that he killed his father to Miranda in a drunken outburst, telling her that now they are "in this together."
In "Saved", the couple takes the Ellis' private yacht, the Seamore 9, into the Atlantic]] off the coast of Maine. After Stillson goes below deck for Dramamine for his seasickness, he emerges to find Miranda missing. Desperate, he turns to Johnny Smith for help. The psychic reluctantly agrees to help, swearing that if the investigation shows that Stillson was involved in Miranda's disappearance, he would bring the congressman down.
Stillson and Smith visit the Seamore 9, and Smith learns that Stillson is afraid of the water, and that the congressman had an argument with Miranda. Stillson and Smith then visit Miranda's apartment, where Stillson lets slip that his father was "a Bible-thumping dead-beat"; Smith claims that he can't force his visions when he's tired, and insists that they start again the next day. Stillson and Smith meet with Harlan Ellis at his estate, but Smith once again claims he's not picking up any visions; as they leave, however, Smith tells Stillson that Miranda is dead.
Later, Stillson is visited by Janus, who informs the congressman that Miranda Ellis is alive, and at the Hotel Gerard in Washington D.C. with Smith; Stillson admits to telling Miranda the truth about his father's death. Stillson holds a press conference to announce Miranda's safe return, and publicly proposes to her; she accepts. Smith also attends, and Stillson makes a point of thanking him in front of the cameras for his integral role in Miranda's rescue.
Stillson was also played by Alexander Calvert in "Broken Circle."
In "Forbidden Fruit", after the leak of a "list of U.S. locations most vulnerable to a terrorist attack" to the Boston Telegraph, Stillson gives an interview in which he stresses the need to refocus attention in respect to global terrorism, and calls for the individual responsible for the leak to face federal treason charges. He also mentions that he is leaving the wedding plans up to Miranda; Stillson later visits Miranda and her father to go over wedding details, and learns that Harlan invited Congressman Patrick Kelly, Stillson's senior counterpart. He also learns that Miranda regularly sees a Doctor Knox, for a heart condition left over from a childhood bout with rheumatic fever.
Stillson visits with Kelly and his chief of staff, Michael Scannell, to discuss the Telegraph leak, as Kelly is also committee chairman for Homeland Security. Stillson offers Kelly a deal: stop blocking Stillson's legislation, or face the full brunt of the leak scandal. Kelly tells Stillson "to go straight to Hell." Stillson then meets with Janus and demands that his advisor "get that old man out of the way"; Janus assures Stillson that "it's already in the works."
The night before the wedding, Stillson visits Miranda, who puts off his sexual advances, claiming that it would be bad luck. She also takes him to task for his infidelity, but he insists that he is trying to put his scarred past behind him in order to make a new life with her. The next morning, Stillson is visited by Janus, who shows the congressman photographs of Miranda at Smith's house. Enraged, Stillson instructs Janus to "handle the situation", leaving the method up to his advisor.
Two hours before the wedding, Stillson visits Miranda, telling her that he loves her. As the guests arrive, Congressman Kelly is accosted by reporters who have just learned from a press conference by Telegraph journalist Jeremy Tomlin that Scannell was the source of the Homeland leak. As Stillson waits at the altar, however, Miranda's maid-of-honor breaks the news that Miranda has stopped breathing. As paramedics load the unconscious bride into an ambulance, Stillson fights past Smith to join her, and stays with her as she dies. In the next two days, Stillson and Ellis have Miranda cremated and spread her ashes on the ocean.
Following a federal raid on the compound of a religious cult called The Seekers that results in the death of Nathan "Cyrus" Carter in "Vortex", Stillson leads a congressional investigation panel to ascertain how the incursion unfolded. He interviews Smith, Bannerman, Major Ray Seybold, Penobscot County Deputy Roscoe, Bruce Lewis, and Lucy Caron. During a recess, Stillson encounters Smith, who takes the congressman to task for the deaths of James Stillson and Miranda Ellis, and baits him by saying that he is now just Janus' pawn. After the investigation, Stillson announces that the Seeker's Compound raid demonstrates a failure on the part of the government for not opening pathways of communication with the cult.
In "the Hunting Party," Stillson meets with Janus and his cabal and receives instructions to join Vice-President Eric Danbury on a hunting expedition. Stillson then replaces Senator Jennings on the trip to Briar Hill in Maine with Danbury, and witnesses Kendra Crowe cutting down a Secret Service agent and the Vice-President with one bullet before taking a bullet to his own left shoulder. He returns fire in the direction of the assassin, and is credited with taking down the triggerman, Marshall Frost.
In "Heritage," Stillson, recently promoted to Vice President of the United States in the wake of Danbury's death, returns to Cleaves Mills to attend the Faith Heritage Winterfest. There he is met by Janus, who insistes that Stillson stay focused on politics, and is given an amended speech on global warming by his advisor to be delivered via Faith Heritage satellite.
Stillson later meets with Purdy in his campaign bus to finalize his speech, but learns that Purdy has decided to give the speech instead. Stillson tries to convince Purdy otherwise, but Purdy expresses "serious concerns about the people behind" Stillson's career. Stillson also visits the Winterfest game, run by Sarah Bannerman, and wins a panda bear, promising to take J.J. for a flight on Air Force Two — or Air Force One, should he win the Presidency.
A few days later, Stillson attended the wake of Sheriff Bannerman, along with Sarah and J.J. Bannerman, Bruce Lewis, Johnny Smith, and Reverend Purdy. Stillson laments the loss of Sheriff Bannerman, but agrees with Smith that "certainly no one's going to miss Malcolm Janus". When Smith shakes hands with Stillson on this occasion, he receives a vision of the future again of Washington D.C., but this time without Armageddon.
In episode "Re-Entry," Stillson shows up at Smith's house to ask for his help to use his psychic powers to help three stranded astronauts in an orbiting Space Shuttle whom are marooned in space. Despite Smith being wary about trusting Stillson, he helps get the astronauts back safely and Stillson, surprisingly, does not have any agenda to the plot for he tells Smith that he is a changed man in the wake of Janus' death.
A little later in episode "Drift", Stillson arrives back again in Penaboscot County to visit Sarah, who is having relationship trouble with Smith after she learned that he had experienced a vision about Walt's death and kept it from her. Stillson speaks at J.J.'s school about Greenpeace and saving the environment as his new change in political stratagy which wins him admiration from both Sarah and J.J.
In episode "Exile", Sarah travels to Washington, D.C. to visit Stillson, who is holding a fund raiser for police veterans. He further charms her with his admiration for her late husband and offers to look into what Walt was involved with prior to his death. Eventually, Smith finds out Sarah's interest in Stillson and tries to persuade her not to get involved with him.
In the series finale, Denouement, Smith learns more about Stillson when he finds his own father, Herb Smith, thought to be dead, being confined in an exact replica of his own house, and learns that Stillson had in fact taken the place of the late Malcolm Janus in the Corporation for a Better American Society, orchestrating nearly everything that had taken place. While still charming both Sarah and J.J., Stillson asks them to move with him to Washington, but when Sarah refused, Stillson became violent. During a scuffle, he knocked J.J. to the floor, and upon hitting his head, J.J. experienced a vision of a nuclear Armageddon; in the replica of the Smith House, Johnny experienced the same vision simultaneously. Sarah angrily told Stillson to leave and he dejectedly returned to Washington.
The android Nigel the Butler mentions Stillson and his campaign motto in The Dark Tower.