Kim Peek: The Case that Inspired the Story of Rain Man

September 25, 2019
Kim Peek's life shows that we know very little about our limits or potential. His existence is proof that reality is paradoxical: every human being has limitations which could bring great benefits.

Kim Peek has a fascinating story which reminds us that all human beings are wonderfully different. The entire planet knew about him through the famous movie Rain Man, which partly portrayed his talent and tragedy.

The “real Rain Man”, Kim Peek, inspired this film’s main plot and script. However, his real life was different from what the movie portrays. This production marked a milestone not only in the history of cinema but also in the life of the character who inspired it.

Perhaps Kim Peek’s story is more fascinating than Rain Man‘s story. So much so that it’s estimated that more than two million people looked for him just to interact with him. In addition, several documentaries were made about his case. In fact, even NASA wanted to know more about this sweet man to understand why he inspired one of the best films of the twentieth century.

“You don’t have to have a disability to be different.”

-Kim Peek-

Kim Peek: A mental retard?

Peek was born in 1951 and was also immediately diagnosed with mental retardation. He came to the world with a disability, which is why every one of his doctors advised that he should be admitted to a specialized center. His family didn’t agree with this, however. They wanted Kim to stay with them, and so he did.

Kim Peek had macrocephaly, which didn’t allow him to develop normally. His brain was excessively large and lacked the area that connects the two hemispheres together, called the corpus callosum. Thus, the prognosis for his life was unfavorable.

However, Kim’s parents realized that their son wasn’t like everyone else, that he was special. By the time he turned one, he could memorize every book that people read him. This skill amazed them so much that they didn’t know how to handle it.

A bunch of books piled up.

Kim’s wonderful brain

Kim Peek’s parents noticed that the boy could learn and remember copious amounts of information. They only needed to read him something once. When he read a book himself, he would turn it upside down and never consult it again. He no longer needed it because he had memorized it in its entirety.

When he was only three years old, he learned to consult the dictionary. He read the word meanings and learned them immediately. Some say that he came to memorize the impressive amount of 9,000 books. He had the ability to read one page with the right eye and the other with the left. He also did it at a very fast pace: he was able to read two full pages in just ten seconds.

Additionally, Kim was able to perform complex mathematical operations in no time. He’d pick up the phone book and add the numbers of a column in a matter of seconds just for entertainment. That’s why, as an adult, he was able to do an entire company’s accounting without the help of a calculator or paper and pen.

A brain on a grey background.

A beautiful life

Unlike the “Rain Man” of the movie, Kim was a very affectionate person. He enjoyed social contact and responded with understanding and affection to everyone who communicated with him. Although he had an amazing memory, he couldn’t draw conclusions from the things he read or apply his mathematical knowledge to activities other than calculus.

Moreover, he had different motor problems. For example, he couldn’t walk until he turned four years old. Also, he reached adulthood without being able to button his shirt or tie his shoes.

Barry Morrow, the Rain Man screenwriter, met him by chance at an event focused on people with special limitations and potentialities. Morrow had already made a film on this subject. However, meeting Kim changed everything.

This encounter led him to write the script for Rain Man. Dustin Hoffman, the actor who portrayed the character, also met Kim and expressed his admiration on multiple occasions. He publicly thanked Peek for his contribution when he won the Oscar for his performance in this film.

As for Kim Peek, fame knocked on his door as well. His father says that this exerted a positive influence on his life since it allowed him to make many friends. This wonderful man came to the world to teach us something more about human paradoxes. Unfortunately, he died of cardiac arrest in 2009, at the age of 58.

“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.”

-Kim Peek-

  1. Muñoz-Yunta, J. A., Ortiz-Alonso, T., Amo, C., Fernández-Lucas, A., Maestú, F., & Palau-Baduell, M. (2003). El síndrome de savant o idiot savant. Rev Neurol, 36(Supl 1), S157-61.