Ackroyd was born in London and raised on a council estate in East Acton by his single mother in a "strict" Roman Catholic household. He first knew that he was gay when he was seven. He was educated at St Benedict's, Ealing, and at Clare College, Cambridge, from which he graduated with a double first in English literature. In 1972, he was a Mellon Fellow at Yale University.
Ackroyd had a long-term relationship with Brian Kuhn, an American dancer he met while at Yale. After a nervous breakdown in the late 1980s, Ackroyd moved to Devon with Kuhn. However, Kuhn was then diagnosed with AIDS, dying in 1994, and Ackroyd moved back to London. He has long been known for his abuse of alcohol, and in 1999 he suffered a heart attack and was placed in a medically induced coma for a week.
- "Dazzling and prolific author Ackroyd qualifies for the list on all counts but the one that matters. "Is it some sort of gay thing? ... I'm not even gay," he claimed after hearing that he'd made it on to last year's list. We pray that you won't be weeping into your cornflakes as we bid this impostor adieu."
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- http://www.independent.co.uk/news/people/profiles/peter-ackroyd-retire-only-if-my-arms-are-chopped-off-first-1742766.html "Peter Ackroyd: 'Retire? Only if my arms are chopped off first' - Profiles - People The Independent 12 July 2009
- http://www.guardian.co.uk/books/2005/sep/04/biography.peterackroyd "The Observer Profile: Peter Ackroyd: The Big Life", The Observer, 4 September 2005