Kim Peek, who died of a massive heart attack Saturday, December 19, at age 58, led an extraordinary life. When he was just a baby, doctors diagnosed Kim as mentally retarded and told him parents to put him away in a hospital and forget about him. Thankfully, they refused that route.
He needed constant care all of his life because of poor motor skills, and mental impairments, and after 1975, when his parents divorced, his father Fran Peek kept diligent care of him, jokingly describing the job as requiring 30-hour days and 10-day weeks.
Despite Peek’s disabilities he had a remarkable mind that stored more facts and information than most people will ever even encounter in a lifetime, much less remember. At the time of his death he had committed over 9,000 books to memory. His favorite place was the local library where he devoured books at a rate of eight per day, sometimes reading two pages at once: one with his left eye and the other with his right. He also had the ability to perform complex calculations in his head in a matter of seconds. You could ask him what day of the week any date was, and he’d get it correct, a trick his fictional counterpart, Rain Man, played by Dustin Hoffman, performed.
Kim Peek became the inspiration for the 1988 Oscar-winning film Rain Man, when he met screenwriter Barry Morrow, and his life has drastically changed. Rain Man didn’t exploit Peek, but instead gave him a platform to grow and open up his extraordinary talents to the world. In the documentaryThe Real Rain Man, which you can watch in full below, Peek sums up the movie’s effect on him succinctly: “Until I started being Rain Man, I couldn’t look in a person’s eyes.”
At the suggestion of Dustin Hoffman, who spend some time with Peek while stuying his role in the film, Peek’s father “shared him with the world” by taking him to speak with scores of people, mostly student. Over the course of their travels together, Peek was able to speak to over 60 million people.
Unlike most savants, Kim was able to not only absorb copious amounts of facts, but was also able to make connections to develop a greater understanding of the things he memorized. Since Rain Man came out, Kim Peek has flourished and developed social skills he didn’t have before. His father claims that he just began developing a sense of humor at the age of 54. His astounding memory skills were perhaps caused by his disabilities, most notably his agenesis of the orpus callosum, which basically means the two hemispheres of his brain were not connected. One theory about Kim’s brain was that it created other connections to compensate for that lack of connection, which resulted in his extraordinary abilities.