Born In: Salt Lake City, Utah, United States
Kim Peek was an American savant and motivational speaker, best known for inspiring actor Dustin Hoffman’s character, Raymond Babbitt, in the Academy Award-winning 1988 movie Rain Man. Kim was born with a condition known as macrocephaly, meaning his brain was abnormally large. Though he was initially thought to be autistic, later research confirmed his condition to be FG syndrome. Though his condition hindered his growth and motor abilities, he soon proved himself to be savant who could read and memorize entire books, maps, and calendars within a few minutes. His exceptional memory was attributed to the lack of the nerve bundle known as the corpus callosum, which connects the two hemispheres of the brain. After the release of Rain Man, which was loosely based on his life, Kim became a celebrity of sorts, appearing on TV shows, in documentaries, and at events, mostly talking about making the world more receptive toward disable people. Kim died of a heart attack in 2009, but his life continues to inspire people to this day.
Also Known As: Laurence Kim Peek
Died At Age: 58
father: Fran Peek
mother: Jeanne W. Buchi
siblings: Alison Peek, Brian Peek
Born Country: United States
U.S. State: Utah
Cause of Death: Heart Attack
City: Salt Lake City, Utah
Laurence Kim Peek was born on November 11, 1951, in Salt Lake City, Utah, U.S., to Fran Peek and Jeanne W. Buchi.
He was born with a condition called macrocephaly, meaning he had an abnormally large head and exhibited developmental issues since an early age.
Doctors later revealed that he had significant damage to his cerebellum. He did not have the bundle of nerves that connects the two hemispheres of the brain, the corpus callosum, which meant he had an increased capacity to retain memories.
When Kim was 9 months old, doctors declared that he would never walk or talk. They asked Kim’s parents to send him to a special institution for disabled children, an idea that Kim’s parents rejected.
By the time Kim was a little over a year old, he had started memorizing books read to him by his parents after listening to the readings just once. After listening to a story, he would put the book upside down on his bookshelf to show that he knew it by heart and that he would not want the same book to be read to him again.
He was unable to walk till 4, but after that, he learned to walk sideways. He had joined a school but was expelled for disrupting the class after a day. At age 6, doctors suggested a lobotomy to stop him from talking non-stop and fidgeting. His parents rejected the idea and arranged for home tutors for Kim instead.
By 7, he had memorized the whole of the Bible. He had some issues with his motor skills and struggled with simple activities such as buttoning up his shirt.
Over time, Kim’s reading speed increased, and he began reading moderately sized books in just half an hour.
Interestingly, he could read both pages simultaneously, one with his right eye and another with his left (even if he read upside down or sideways). Kim had a photographic memory and remembered till 98% of whatever he read. Throughout his life, Kim had memorized about 12,000 books. He also memorized the entire catalog of books at the Salt Lake City Library.
Kim Peek soon became an expert in 15 subjects. He also began memorizing phone books and could tell the names of people living at a particular address, instantly.
He also memorized maps, travel guides, and atlases. He used his mathematical skills to calculate the best routes between any two cities in the world, in an instant.
Kim memorized musical compositions and played them on his piano, clearly based on his memory. He could also do calendar calculations. He could calculate which day of the week it was on a particular date, years back. He could also recall newspaper headlines and events reported on a particular date, years back.
Kim also loved reading and watching Shakespeare’s plays. Since he had completed reading all of Shakespeare’s works, he often corrected actors when they failed to remember their lines at any live performance of Shakespeare’s plays.
Though Kim Peek had a sub-par IQ of 87, later in life, Peek also earned a job at a company where he was required to manage the payroll for 160 employees. He worked just a few hours a week and made all the necessary calculations mentally.
In 1984, screenwriter Barry Morrow met Kim Peek in Arlington, Texas, and was amazed at his abilities. The meeting led to the 1988 Academy Award-winning movie Rain Man, which starred Dustin Hoffman in a role inspired by Kim.
Dustin played Raymond Babbitt in the movie. In fact, in 1987, Dustin had met Kim to help him prepare for the role. However, there were minor alterations made to Kim’s real-life story to suit the film. For instance, the film showed Raymond as autistic.
There is a scene in Rain Man where Raymond wins big at a Vegas casino. However, that never happened in real life. Though Kim Peek had good card-counting skills, when the screenwriter asked him enter a casino to try it, as an experiment, he refused because of ethical reasons.
While receiving his Academy Award for Rain Man, Dustin Hoffman thanked Kim. Dustin also gave away his Oscar statue to Kim to let him carry it with him on his speaking tours. It is known as the “most loved Oscar statue,” because it has been held and touched by more people than any other Academy Award statue.
Following the release of the movie, Kim traveled across the country with his father, speaking at events and advocating for tolerance for specially abled people. He also went around demonstrating some of the fascinating things he could do. It is believed that Kim had delivered lectures to more than 2 million people, but he had never charged any fees (except basic expenses) for his appearances.
Kim Peek also appeared in a number of TV programs. Some of them were the BBC documentary The Boy with the Incredible Brain; the Discovery Channel documentaries Brainman, Inside the Rain Man, Everything You Need to Know – The Brain, Human Computer; and the Discovery Health Channel documentaries Medical Incredible and The Real Rain Man.
He also appeared on the show Ripley's Believe It or Not!, World's Smartest People on The Learning Channel, and Extraordinary People. He also appeared in a CNN interview by Richard Quest.
Both Kim Peek and his father spoke at the inaugural meeting of the Athanasius Kircher Society. Kim also spoke at the Oxford Union. He appeared in 60 Minutes and the National Geographic Channel documentary Accidental Genius.
He was also featured in an episode of the 2008 Science Channel special Superhuman, titled Genius.
He was part of a 2006 Swedish documentary named Den Riktiga Rain Man, aired on TV-4.
Kim also made a cameo appearance in Rain Man, appearing as a man leaving the Amtrak station as Tom Cruise and Dustin Hoffman enter the station.
Kim Peek’s parents had divorced in 1979, following which his father took care of him as a single parent.
On December 19, 2009, Kim died of a heart attack at his home in Murray, Utah, U.S. He was 58 at the time of his death.
His father died in 2014, at the age of 88.
Barry Morrow loaned his Oscar statue permanently to Salt Lake City to honor Kim Peek, and invested the money to launch the Peek Award. The Utah Film Center gives out the award honoring artists and filmmakers who create films that affect the disabled community positively.
Although Kim Peek’s condition was previously misdiagnosed as autism, in 2008, a study suggested that he was probably suffering from a rare X-chromosome-related condition known as FG syndrome.
In 2004, researchers at the Center for Bioinformatics Space Life Sciences of the NASA Ames Research Center conducted a series of tests on Kim, including a magnetic resonance imaging (MRI) and computed tomography (CT) scan. They wished to have a 3D view of his brain to compare the images they found to his MRI scans from 1988. These were the first experiments that used non-invasive techniques to study Kim's abilities as a “megasavant.”
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