Gorey was born in Chicago and attended Harvard University, where his roommate was poet Frank O'Hara. After college Gorey began illustrating book covers for Doubleday and working on his own novels, none of which he finished. He eventually turned to the smaller books on which he built his career, often using rhyme to tell weird tales with dark humor. Gorey also designed sets and costumes for a number of theater productions, and staged his own Gorey Stories in 1978 in New York.
His costume design for the Broadway production of "Dracula" won a Tony Award in 1978. Mr. Gorey also wrote at least 90 books and illustrated 60 others. Most showed vaguely Edwardian characters in bleak settings, reacting in prim distress to strange situations, such as the intrusion of a penguin-like, sneaker-wearing creature (The Doubtful Guest; 1957).
A set published in 1963 under the title The Vinegar Works featured a grisly alphabet book, The Gashlycrumb Tinies, in which :A is for Amy, who fell down the stairs" and "X is for Xerxes, devoured by mice."
The book was included in Amphigorey, an anthology of 15 stories Putnam published in 1972, that brought Mr. Gorey's work to a wider audience. It was followed in 1974 by Amphigorey Too and Amphigorey Also in 1983.
In the 1980s, Gorey moved to Cape Cod, where he led a small theater troupe that performed his works in plays and puppet shows. At the same time, his characters made the leap to television in the opening and closing titles of the PBS series "Mystery!"
Gorey died at a hospital near his Cape Cod home after a heart attack. His design for The Beast under the Wizard's Bridge was his last completed book work, having illustrated 21 books by John Bellairs and Brad Strickland. 2001's The Tower at the End of the World was dedicated to his memory.
- The House with a Clock in its Walls (US, Jun. 1974)
- The Curse of the Blue Figurine (US, May 1983)
- The Treasure of Alpheus Winterborn (US, 1985)
- The Hand of the Necromancer (US, 1996)
- The Beast under the Wizard's Bridge (Sep. 2000)