(Photos on this page copyright of, and supplied by, Salinas Valley Memorial Healthcare System, California/Photographer: Richard Green except those of Fran and Kim at the Wisconsin Medical Society Foundation dinner)
View Kim Peek videos.
Sad Update: December 21, 2009
Kim Peek—Home for Christmas
I received a sad phone call from Fran Peek about dinner time on Saturday, December 19, 2009. He called to tell me Kim Peek had died suddenly of a heart attack earlier that afternoon. Kim had not been ill and he and his Dad were looking forward to the Holiday season. They had been opening Christmas cards earlier in the day and Kim liked them all. Kim had his 58th birthday in November.
There has never been, and there will never be, another person like Kim Peek. His talents were unique, exceptional and spectacular. And the story of the love and bond between he and his Dad was inspirational. Their willingness to share both the skills and the story with so many audiences world-wide so unselfishly was their gift to us. Kim says “Rain Man changed my life.” Well, Kim, you in turn, along with your Dad, touched and changed our lives as well.
Last night I looked up and saw a new star in the heavens. It shown brightly but it had a uniquely different shape than all the rest. It was truly one of a kind. Kim was one of a kind.
Kim went home for Christmas.
Kim always said he and his Dad shared the same shadow. While you would expect that shadow to be dimmed a bit now, I don’t think it is. It remains as
as a refreshing, indelible memory of a most unique and special person. It was a privilege to have known him.
Fran and Kim were never into e mail and the internet. Kim was his own internet and was a living Google. But if you have a message you would like to send to Fran by e mail you can send it to firstname.lastname@example.org and I will personally see to it that Fran gets those in my correspondence with him.
Kim Peek was the inspiration for screen writer Barry Morrow’s 1988 Oscar-winning movie Rain Man. Mr. Morrow had earlier been involved in writing the story for the television movie Bill, about a mentally retarded person sensitively portrayed by Mickey Rooney. As a result of that interest, and ability, in 1984 Mr. Morrow was invited to attend a Communications Committee meeting of the Association for Retarded Citizens (ARC) in Arlington, Texas. Kim’s father, Fran, was Chairman of that committee. Kim met Mr. Morrow there and, according to Fran’s book The Real Rain Man, they spent several hours together.
Kim astonished Mr. Morrow by correcting the ZIP codes on membership lists they perused, being familiar with almost every author and book in the library, quoting an unending amount of sports trivia, relating complex driving instructions to most anywhere and giving Mr. Morrow “my date of birth and day of the week I was born, the day of the week this year, and day of the week and year I would turn 65 so I could think about retiring.” They also discussed events of the Revolutionary War, the Civil War, World Wars I and II, Korea and Vietnam. Mr. Morrow decided to write a script inspired by Kim Peek’s abilities and it was that script — Rain Man — that eventually evolved into that splendid movie, making ‘savant’ a household term.
In the course of his preparation for playing the part of Raymond Babbitt in Rain Man, Dustin Hoffman met with Kim Peek and his father in February, 1987. Fran Peek describes that “special day with Dustin” at length in his book about Kim and chronicles in some detail Kim’s encyclopedic memory feats as shared with Mr. Hoffman including facts about British Monarchs, the Bible, baseball, horse racing, dates, times, places, composers, melodies, movies, geography, space program, authors and literature. Dustin Hoffman’s parting remark to Kim, according to his father was: “I may be the star, but you are the heavens.” When Dustin Hoffman accepted his Oscar in March, 1989 he opened his response with: “My special thanks to Kim Peek for making Rain Man a reality.”
Along the way to its completion, the original script for the movie Rain Man underwent a number of modifications. While Kim Peek served as the initial inspiration for the story, Raymond Babbitt, as portrayed so admirably by Dustin Hoffman, is a composite savant with abilities drawn from a number of different real life individuals. The main character in that movie, Raymond Babbitt, was modified to be an autistic savant. The story thus is that of a person who is autistic but also has savant skills grafted on to that basic autistic disorder. It is important to remember, therefore, that not all autistic persons are savants, and not all savants are autistic. In preparation for his role, Dustin Hoffman spent time with several other autistic savants and their families, as well as with Kim.
Fran Peek describes his son this way: “Kim is not behaviorally autistic. He has a warm, loving personality. He truly cares for people and enjoys sharing his unique skills and knowledge capacity. Known as ‘Kimputer’ to many, his knowledge-library includes World and American History, People and Leaders, Geography (roads and highways in U.S. and Canada), Professional Sports (baseball, basketball, football, Kentucky Derby winners etc), the Space Program, Movies and movie themes, Actors and Actresses, the Bible, Mormon Church Doctrine and History, Calendar Calculations (including a person’s day of birth, present year’s birthday, and the year and the date the person will turn 65 years old so he or she can retire), Literature/Authors, Shakespeare, Telephone Area Codes, major ZIP Codes, all TV stations and their markets. He can identify most classical music compositions and tell the date the music was written and the composer’s birth date and place of birth and death Kim has read (and can recall) some 7600 books. He also keeps current on world, U.S. and most local events by reading newspapers, magazines and by listening to the media. He reads constantly He can also describe the highways that go to a person’s small town, the county, area code and ZIP code, television stations available in the town, who the person’s pay their telephone bill to, and describe any historical events that may have occurred in their area. His expertise includes at least 14 subject areas.”
Kim Peek was born on November 11, 1951. He had an enlarged head, with an encephalocele, according to his doctors. An MRI shows, again according to his doctors, an absent corpus callosum — the connecting tissue between the left and right hemispheres; no anterior commissure and damage to the cerebellum. Only a thin layer of skull covers the area of the previous encephalocele.
With respect to early development, Kim’s father indicates that at age 16-20 months Kim was able to memorize every book that was read to him. His parents moved Kim’s finger along each sentence being read. Kim would memorize a book after a single reading and having read that particular book he would put it aside, upside down, so that no one would attempt to read it to him again. Even today, all reading materials are placed by Kim upside down or put backwards on a shelf.
At age three Kim asked his parents what the word “confidential” meant. He was kiddingly told to look it up in the dictionary and he did just that. He somehow knew how to use the alphabetical order to locate the word and then proceeded to read, phonetically, the word’s definition (Since that time Kim has read, and can recall, some 7600 books). Kim did not walk until age 4. At that time he was also obsessed with numbers and arithmetic, reading telephone directories and adding columns of telephone numbers. He enjoyed totaling the numbers on automobile license plates as well. Since 1969 ,Kim has worked at a day workshop for adults with disabilities. Without the aid of calculators or adding machines, he has prepared information from work sheets for payroll checks. He takes extended leaves from his work now so he and his father can spend all the time that they do together as emissaries for people with disabilities in community settings across the nation.
In that way life has changed dramatically for Kim since the movie which he inspired became so popular and well accepted. Following that movie, Kim, according to his father, developed a new found confidence to meet people and to address audiences. Prior to the movie, his father reports, Kim seldom looked into the face of another person. However, due to the numerous requests for appearances, Kim now travels across the country with his father. They estimate they have interacted with over 900,000 persons in those audiences thus far. As a result of these interactions Kim has grown considerably socially and developed increasing self-esteem. In the feedback received, many have commented on Kim’s positive influence on children and parents toward creating better awareness, recognition and respect for people who are ‘different’. His father quotes Kim as saying: “Recognizing and respecting differences in others, and treating everyone like you want them to treat you, will help make our world a better place for everyone. Care… be your best. You don’t have to be handicapped to be different. Everyone is different!”
There have been numerous television programs about Kim including 20/20, Good Morning America and others. Kim and his father continue to travel throughout the United States and Canada with the mission and purpose to inform persons about savant syndrome, and to share Kim’s message of inspiration. Barry Morrow, describes it thus: “I don’t think anybody could spend five minutes with Kim and not come away with a slightly altered view of themselves, the world, and our potential as human beings.”
The book that tells this story is much more detail is The Real Rain Man by Fran Peek; Harkness Publishing Consultants, Salt Lake City, Utah, 1996.
Update: January 20, 2009
Kim Peek honored as the Real Life Rain Man
A number of celebrities gathered in the auditorium of the Salt Lake City Library, Kim’s favorite destination, to honor Kim and his father Fran on the 20th Anniversary of the Oscar-winning movie Rain Man. Celebrities included Barry Morrow, who wrote the script for the movie after having met Kim in the summer of 1974. He was joined on stage by musician and producer Steve Carnegie and was joined by cell phone by Mickey Rooney who had played “Bill” in the television movie by that name some years earlier portraying another person—Bill Sackter—who also overcame disabilities to inspire millions.
A newspaper article from the Salt Lake Tribune describes the event in more detail at http://www.sltrib.com/ci_11481255
Update: July 12, 2008
Kim Peek will keynote NODCC conference
The National Organization for Disorders of the Corpus Callosum (NODCC) holds a conference each summer for persons with Disorders of the Corpus Callosum, and parents, physicians, teachers and other persons interested in this condition. Keynoting the conference this year will be Kim Peek, and his father, Fran. Kim has ACC (absence of the corpus callosum) so in the spirit of “listen to the patient”, who better to address this conference than Kim. His father, Fran, will provide a second keynote address to parents of children with corpus callosum disorders. Later in the conference there will be sessions for parents, teachers and physicians to learn more about Disorders of the Corpus Callosum and its manifestations. There is more information available about the conference, and about disorders of the corpus callosum at this web site address: http://www.nodcc.org. The conference will be held in Cherry Hill, New Jersey on July 18-20.
Update: September 12, 2006
Kim Peek: His travels and his documentaries
Kim and his father, Fran, continue to criss-cross the continent, and the world, to share Kim’s story, skills and message with a national and international audience. Global television satellite broadcasts allow them to be seen in a number of different countries, such as Okinawa, or Belgium, for example, now without even having to travel there. They have also traveled to the U.K. and Germany within the past year for some ‘live’ appearances there. The audiences total well over 2 million persons now for just these in-person appearances. The message is an inspirational one both with respect to Kim’s extraordinary abilities, as well as the touching portrait of a father and son who, as Kim describes it, “share the same shadow.”
There are two hour-long documentaries now on Kim in addition to the numerous shorter programs he has participated in. Focus Productions in the U.K. has produced “The Real Rain Man,” which is being aired on the Discovery Science Channel in the U.S. Swedish television has aired an hour long program titled “Mot Kim Peek:Verklighetens Rainman—den manskliga datorn,” which gives a special insight into the relationship between father and son.
In addition to these hour-long documentaries, Colourfield Productions in Germany included considerable footage of Kim Peek in its Beautiful Minds three-hour documentary on memory, creativity and the male:female brain. That program is scheduled to be seen on the National Geographic Channel in the U.S. and has aired already in other countries including Ireland and Australia.
Kim Peek and Daniel Tammet, two memory giants, are filmed together in an interesting sequence in Brainman, the story of Daniel Tammet, again a Focus Productions hour-long documentary. Click here to view a short segment from Brainman.
Some brief clips from Focus Productions and Colourfield of Kim are available at the top of this page. More will be added as they become available.
Update: June 20, 2006
Scientific American gets “Inside the Mind of a Savant”
The June/July 2006 issue of Scientific American MIND contains an article on Kim Peek called “Inside the Mind of a Savant.” The article, by Darold A. Treffert, MD, and Daniel D. Christensen, is prefaced by these words: “Kim Peek — the inspiration for Rain Man — possesses one of the most extraordinary memories every recorded. Until we can explain his abilities, we cannot pretend to understand human cognition.”
Update: April 5, 2006
Kim Peek’s Expanding Abilities and European Travels
Kim Peek stands in front of an image of his brain. Photo courtesy Scientific American and Ethan Hill, photographer.
Kim Peek’s travels and media appearances are expanding as rapidly as his already extraordinary mind and memory are expanding as well.
Kim and his father Fran took their first trip abroad to England in January, 2006 for filming some parts of “The Real Rainman” by Focus productions. That program has already aired on Channel 5 in London and will be aired on Discovery Channel in the U.S. soon. On that trip Kim made an appearance at the Oxford Union Debating Society demonstrating his remarkable grasp of U. K. history, and other topics. In March, 2006 Kim and Fran flew to Germany where they were guests on the very popular “Kerner” show one evening. Colourfield Productions of Dortmund, Germany had previously included Kim, along with some other prodigious savants, in their “Beautiful Minds: Journey into the Brain” program, which has already aired in Germany and France and is described elsewhere on this site.
The December, 2005 issue of Scientific American has an article devoted to Kim Peek titled “Inside the Mind of a Savant”, by Dr. Dan Christensen of the University of Utah Medical school, and myself. That article will also be included in an upcoming issue of MIND, another publication of Scientific American.
Interviewers and film crews from Sweden, Germany and a number of other countries, have visited with and/or filmed Kim and Fran. I had a chance to spend several days with them in Milwaukee, Wisconsin for filming a portion of “The Real Rain Man.” Portions of that film were also produced in California where some special imaging studies were carried out at the University of California-San Francisco including MRI, Diffusion Tensor Imaging (DTI), and Fiber-tracking (DTT). Dr. Christensen had also carried out some earlier MRI studies on Kim. Some of those MRI images on Kim are included in the Scientific American article.
I mentioned Kim’s mind and memory are expanding as well. Some of the savant mnemonists of the past — and there have been only several — had massive stores of information, but generally within much more narrow realms than Kim’s 15 areas of expertise. Those other savant mnemonists also generally lacked comprehension of the vast store of memorized data. Kim shows not only increasing comprehension of what he has so extraordinarily put on his mind’s hard drive, he demonstrates as well an increasing quick wit, humor and ability to make puns, the latter being very clever and sometimes taking a fair amount of time for those around Kim (including me) to catch the connection. But the connection, on pondering, is always there. And, of course, then there is Kim’s newfound musical performance ability which is surprising and astonishing as described in some prior updates on this site.
For me, the transition that Kim Peek shows now from memorization, to word ‘improvisation’ to creation of puns and wit is the same transition seen in some prodigious musical savants — first memorization, then improvisation, then creation and composition.
Kim’s ability as a memory-smith, and now word-smith, is, however, in my experience very impressive, and very unique. And the capacity of his ‘hard drive’ seems inexhaustible.
Update: September 26, 2005
Kim Peek — “The Real Rain Man” — Continues to Astound
Kim Peek continues to reach new heights and provide new surprises. Fran Peek, Kim’s father, indicates that as of the present time Kim’s message of diversity and inclusion has reached 2.6 million persons over travels of over 1.1 million miles since the movie Rain Man, inspired by Kim’s incredible abilities. Kim continues to make a number of national presentations, but he and his Dad also make many local presentations to detention centers, nursing homes, schools and other places where Kim’s message about accepting diversity and differentness is always well received along with the inspiring impact that Kim’s remarkable abilities themselves leave on all his audiences.
Another height — NASA is now studying Kim, hoping to use of MRI and CT scans to create a three dimensional model of Kim’s unique brain structure with the purpose of better understanding him and his remarkable abilities. Those new imaging studies are being carried out at Salinas Valley Memorial Hospital in Salinas, California at a joint project with NASA. Salinas Hospital and Richard Green, photographer, have provided the pictures of Fran and Kim on this page. A November, 2004 story tells more about this project.
A new talent has, quite surprisingly, emerged in Kim more recently. He has long had a massive store of musical knowledge about specific compositions, composers, date of first performances, subsequent derivations of more modern pieces from original compositions etc. But through recent contacts with a music professor and teacher, Kim has not only continued to demonstrate, and even add to, his vast fund of knowledge about music, but he has begun to play music as well. He has also shown a remarkable understanding of the organization, content, style and ‘rules of music’ itself beyond the huge musical fact database long evident with Kim. The extent of this newly emerged musical skill, combined with the massive musical memory, remains to be fully fathomed, and that exploration is underway.
In the 2005 documentary Brainman, there is an interesting interaction between Daniel Tammet and Kim Peek, two present day memory giants, which sheds light on how their massive memories share some similarities, yet also differ, pointing up the complexity of ‘memory’ as we know it. Yet unless and until any model of memory function can fully incorporate and account for these two incredible memory capacities and abilities, it remains an incomplete model. Those explorations are also underway.
More information about Kim and the movie Rain Man appear elsewhere on this site in a posting titled Rain Man/The Movie and Rain Man/Real Life.
Update: July 20, 2007
The Real ‘Rain Man’ has a new book
Fran Peek has written a new book about the marvelous journey of his son, Kim, “from a reclusive child to an international celebrity” thanks, in large part, to the post Rain Man travels and appearances he and his father have made spreading their message of hope, patience, acceptance and diversity. The book is The Life and Message of The Real Rain Man—the Journey of a Mega-Savant. Lisa L. Hanson, and Fran Peek, together chronicle Kim’s childhood and pre-Rain Man struggles, his astounding memory abilities, the surprising discovery of his musical ability, and the emergence, now, of complex, creative and entertaining wit. Kim says “my Dad and I share the same shadow.” They do, and what a marvelous image that shadow casts as an inspiration to all of us.
The book is available from National Professional Resources of Port Chester, New York at
www.NPRinc.com or 800.453.7461.