Born in Salt Lake City on November 2, 1944, he was christened Claude Rex Nowell. After his parents divorced in 1948, his mother remarried, took her son with her to Southern California, and had his name legally changed to Claude Rex King. Along the way he picked up the nickname Corky. While still in California, he graduated from a community college with a degree in construction technology.
Corky moved back to Salt Lake City in 1964 at the behest of his birth father, who gave him a job in his construction business but insisted that his son join the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints; though Mr. Nowell himself wasn’t active in the church, it seems he thought his son would benefit financially from a tie to the dominant regional power. About this time Corky changed his name (legally) back to Claude Rex Nowell. Maintaining that name for the nonce, he became a Mormon missionary, rising to the position of assistant to the mission president, “which,” he once boasted to an audience, “is about the highest rank you can get to as a missionary.” After a full term on the Central States mission field, he went on to attend Brigham Young University and then the University of Utah, from which he graduated, or did not graduate, with majors in business and, perhaps, philosophy (the sources on these two points are at odds).