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Meet Kim Peek: the original Rainman November 3, 2009

Posted by Daniel Martin in General.
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Kim Peek is the real life Rain Man whom the Dustin Hoffman character was based in the movie. Described as a confounding mixture of disability and brilliance, Kim is in love with knowledge. Kim Peek is probably the world’s most famous savant. Kim was diagnosed as being mentally retarded at birth, but with father Fran’s support he has developed a memory that is without equal.

Born and raised in Salt Lake City, Utah. Kim has lived here all of his life. The local library is Kim’s favourite place in the world. Kim devours books on anything and everything, as many as eight in a day. He reads at a phenomenal rate, a page that may take you or I three minutes will take Kim about 10 seconds. He reads the left page with his left eye and the right page with his right eye and will retain about 98% of it. He has 15 subject areas but about the only thing he can’t do is, he can’t reason out mathematical problems.

In 1951, doctors wanted to place Kim in a mental hospital named American Fork. His father was determined that Kim would not go to an institution, he would be raised at home as a normal child.

Fran and Kim’s mother parted in 1975, leaving Fran as Kim’s sole carer. Fran is now almost 80 years old. Kim says “I wasn’t supposed to make it past about 14, and yet here I am at 54, a celebrity!”.

As a child, Kim was very introverted. It wasn’t until he was 37 when he met Dustin Hoffman, that he could look into someone’s face. Fran relates that “Dustin Hoffman said to me, you have to promise me one thing about this guy, share him with the world. And pretty soon it got so that nobody was a stranger to him, they were people, and so was he”. Barry Morrow, the Rain Man screenwriter says of Kim: “I love the way he’s flowered, it belies the myth that people don’t change, especially people with developmental disabilities”.

Fran took Dustin Hoffman’s advice to share Kim with the world. The once introverted Kim has now appeared in front of more than 2 million people, all eager to test his genius with obscure questions.

Kim’s gifts come at a price. Like all savants, Kim is an acutely different man, sometimes understanding Kim can be a challenge. Kim can become very agitated when trying to understand a new concept, but Fran has phenomenal patience and will calm Kim by gently changing the subject to something Kim is happier with.

Looking after Kim is more than a full-time job, Fran jokes that he needs 30 hours a day and 10 days a week. Kim knows how essential his dad is to him: “My dad and I share the same shadow!”

Most savants have only one dominating interest, Kim seems to soak up everything. His interests range from boxing, to politics, to the British Monarchy.



1. V.E.G. - December 22, 2009

I met Kim Peek and his father Fran exactly once in Moffat County in Colorado.

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