Kim Peek, the savant who inspired Rain Man, dies at the age of 58
UK Mail Online 23 December 2009
The man who inspired the title character in the Oscar-winning movie Rain Man has died.
Kim Peek was 58. His father, Fran, says Peek had a major heart attack on Saturday morning and was pronounced dead at a hospital in the Salt Lake City suburb of Murray.
Peek was a savant with a remarkable memory and inspired writer Barry Morrow when he wrote Rain Man, the 1988 movie that won four Academy Awards and took £100million at the box office.
Fran Peek said his son met Morrow at a convention in the early 1980s and the writer was taken with Peek’s knack for retaining everything he heard.
Morrow wrote the script, and the movie went on to win Oscars for best film and best actor for Dustin Hoffman, whose repetitive rants about being an excellent driver and the TV show People’s Court were a hit with moviegoers.
Although the character was technically fictional, Fran Peek said his son was every bit as amazing as Hoffman’s portrayal of him.
And Kim’s true character showed when he toured the world, helping dispel misconceptions about mental disabilities.
‘It was just unbelievable, all the things that he knew,’ Fran Peek said on Monday.
‘He travelled 5,500 miles short of three million air miles and talked to 60million people.’
Kim Peek stands on the steps at the Salt Lake City Library in Salt Lake City. Peek, the man who inspired the title character in the Oscar-winning movie “Rain Man” has died at the age of 58
After his birth in 1951, Peek’s parents were advised to place him in an institution for the mentally disabled.
They refused and he was brought up alongside his brother and sister in Utah.
In his later years, Peek was classified as a ‘mega-savant’ who was a genius in about 15 different subjects, from history and literature and geography to numbers, sports, music and dates.
But his motor skills were limited; he couldn’t perform simple tasks such as dressing himself.
National Public Radio’s Howard Berkes reported for the American broadcaster from Salt Lake City about the 58-year-old.
He said: ‘Peek had severe mental handicaps but reportedly remembered everything he read and heard. He had difficulty with simple things like turning on lights or dressing himself, but his memory was legendary.
‘Give him a date and he’d describe its events. Name a place and he’d name the zip code.’
‘Rain Man made Peek so famous he travelled the globe, displaying his talents as the real “Rain Man”,’ he added.
Nasa studied him because his memory got better as he aged. But in the end, his memory was sharp but his heart gave out.
Peek was born with macrocephaly, damage to the cerebellum, and, perhaps most important, agenesis of the corpus callosum, a condition in which the bundle of nerves that connects the two hemispheres of the brain is missing.
There is speculation that his neurons made other connections in the absence of a corpus callosum, which results in an increased memory capacity.
According to Peek’s father, Fran, he was able to memorise things from the age of 16-20 months.
He read books, memorized them, and then placed them upside down on the shelf to show that he had finished reading them, a practice he maintained.
He read a book in about an hour, and remembered almost everything he had read, memorising vast amounts of information in subjects ranging from history, literature, geography and numbers to sports, music and dates.
His reading technique consisted of reading the left page with his left eye and the right page with his right eye and in this way he could read two pages at time with a rate of about 8-10 seconds per page.
He could recall the content of some 12,000 books from memory.
Peek did not walk until the age of four, could not button his shirt and had difficulty with other ordinary motor skills, presumably due to his damaged cerebellum, which normally coordinates motor activities.
In psychological testing, Peek scored below average with an IQ of 73.
But unlike many savants, Peek showed increasing social skills, perhaps due to the attention that had come with being perceived as the ‘real Rain Man’.
His father says that his sense of humour had been emerging since 2004 or so.
Also, he had developed well beyond the stage of being a mere repository of vast amounts of information; his skills at associating information he remembers were at least one of the signs of creativity.
He displayed difficulty with abstractions such as interpreting the meanings of proverbs or metaphorical terms of speech.
Although never a musical prodigy, Peek’s musical abilities as an adult were receiving more notice when he started to study the piano.
He apparently remembered music he heard decades ago and could play it on the piano, to the extent permitted by his limited physical dexterity.
Daniel Christensen, a professor with Utah University’s Neuropsychiatric Institute said: ‘He had a depth and breadth of knowledge and a memory that was just unbelievable.
‘He was unique – I don’t know if there will ever be another person quite like Kim.’
In 1984, script writer Barry Morrow met Peek in Arlington, Texas; the result of the meeting was the 1988 movie Rain Man.
The character of Raymond Babbitt, although inspired by Peek, was portrayed as having autism.
Dustin Hoffman, who played Babbitt, met Peek and other savants to get an understanding of their nature and to play the role with accuracy.
Peek’s father later said that until meeting the actor, his son could not look into another person’s face.
The movie caused a number of requests for appearances, which increased Peek’s self-confidence.
Barry Morrow gave Kim his Oscar statuette to carry with him and show at these appearances.
Kim also enjoyed approaching strangers and showing them his talent for calendar calculations by telling them on which day of the week they were born and what news items were on the front page of major newspapers.
Peek had also appeared on television. He traveled with his father, who took care of him and performed many motor tasks that Peek found difficult.
Fran Peek says the funeral will be next Tuesday in Taylorsville. Details are pending.