Tuesday, April 24, 2007

Kim Peek "The Real Rain Man"

Kim Peek

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 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 four. 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.

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