Kim Peek, the mentally disabled savant who inspired the Oscar-winning film “Rain Man,” died Saturday of a heart attack. He was 58.
Peek was a mega-savant with the ability to recall 98 percent of everything he read, saw or heard. Peek’s remarkable mental abilities left such an impression on screenwriter Barry Morrow that he was inspired to write the movie “Rain Man.” The film, while fiction, significantly raised public awareness of Autism, Savant syndrome, and mental disabilities.
The film was beneficial for the deeply introverted Peek as well, helping him learn new social skills. From the Times Online:
It was not until he met Dustin Hoffman, when the Hollywood star was researching his role in “Rain Man”, that he could look into another person’s face. He was 37 at the time.
Dustin Hoffman advised Fran Peek not to hide his son away. Mr Peek said of that meeting: “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”.
He took Hoffman’s advice, putting his son on stage in front of thousands of people for whom he answered, almost always correctly, the most obscure questions they could test him with.
He thrived on his new found fame. Mr Morrow said of him: “I love the way he’s flowered, it belies the myth that people don’t change, especially people with developmental disabilities.”
Four years before his death, Mr Peek said: “I wasn’t supposed to make it past about 14, and yet here I am at 54, a celebrity!”