The Real Rain Man

Kim Peek passed away on December 19. Mr Peek was the inspiration for the main character in the film Rain Man starring Dustin Hoffman (as the “Rain Man”) and Tom Cruise as his brother. Kim Peek was classified as a “mega-savant.” A savant is a person who has extensive knowledge. Someone with savant syndrome has capacity for acquiring extensive knowledge but is afflicted with some sort of mental disability such as autism or mental retardation. Kim is considered a mega-savant because his abilities span a large array of subjects. When I googled “mega-savant,” nearly every one of the returned links referred to Kim Peek. There was one or two that referred to a Pennsylvania band named “Mega Savant” but I couldn’t find a dedicated Web site for it.

I was lucky one Sunday afternoon a few years ago when Barb and I visited the Borders book store in Fort Wayne. We had nothing special planned that day, and just decided on the spur of the moment to stop there. Inside, we browsed the bookshelves for a few minutes and I stumbled across a table with stacks of books. All the copies were of the same book, “The Real Rain Man”. I picked up a copy and leafed through it. The book was a biography of Kim Peek. The book’s author was Fran Peek, Kim’s father.

The table with the books was in an open area, and chairs were arranged on one end. It looked as if some sort of presentation was scheduled. In a few minutes, I found out what was on the agenda. A woman entered the open area and announced that Kim Peek and his father would be appearing in just a few minutes. People gathered quickly and filled the chairs. Barb and I sat down too, and shortly the woman introduced Kim Peek and his father.

For the next half hour or so, we were treated to a touching account by Kim’s father, Fran, of his family’s challenge in dealing with the upbringing of his son, and their life with him as part of their family. Kim stood patiently at his father’s side, waiting for his turn. Fran asked Kim a few questions, requiring Kim to provide dates of events, and information pertaining to a wide range of subject matter. We observed an astounding exhibition of the knowledge and recall capacity of Kim. It was truly dumbfounding to see a real-time demonstration of the potential of the human brain’s vast capability.

The presentation concluded with questions posed by the audience. He could tell exactly how many days had elapsed since dates that people gave him, such as their own birthdays or famous historical events. Given the name of a town, Kim told us which telephone area code it was in, what the zip code was, which TV and radio stations served it, and a score of other facts that most of the residents of those towns couldn’t even have recited. We were amazed, as were all the other common folk in attendance.

Just as amazing, Fran told us that Kim could not brush his own teeth, or dress himself, or feed himself. His brain was not wired to enable him to remember the steps of such common, mundane processes. Kim was totally dependent upon his father to get through each day. The vast capacity of Kim’s brain was gained at the expense of his being without the capacity of functioning on his own in this world.

I will not forget my impressions of Kim and Fran Peek. I have a copy of Fran’s book on my desk right now. The cover consists of a photo of Kim and Dustin Hoffman, side by side and looking at each other. Hoffman visited Kim before the making of the Rain Man movie. I had seen that movie before observing Kim in person, and I realized after seeing Kim in person that Hoffman did an excellent job of capturing his speech patterns and mannerisms.

You can find a video of Kim Peek here. Check it out.

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