Way back in the 80’s when Dustin Hoffman gave his Oscar acceptance speech for the movie Rain Man he publicly thanked and acknowledged savant Kim Peek – it was the least he could do for the man who was the inspiration for the character Hoffman played. But this was by no means the pinnacle of Peek’s career, it was just the thing that helped usher him a little closer to the limelight.
Peek was born in Salt Lake City in 1951 with an abnormally large head and showed developmental difficulties from a very early age. He wasn’t able to walk until the age of four, and even then with a strange, sidelong gait. He couldn’t button his own shirts and had lots of difficulties with motor skills. When enrolled in school, he was expelled after one day for disrupting class.
But Peek also showed flashes of unusual abilities even at that early age: memorizing things with perfect recall before he was even two and reciting books he read line for line with perfect recall.
By the time he was 18, despite his lack of schooling, Peek had a job doing payroll for a company with 160 employees. It took him only a few hours a week, and he performed all the necessary calculations in his head.
Despite his prodigious feats, Peek’s IQ was only 87, and he lived a quiet life in the care of his family… until Rain Man. Afterward, he often toured the country with his father, advocating tolerance for disabled individuals and demonstrating some of the amazing things that he could do… things that the rest of us couldn’t even imagine being able to do.
Reading Both Pages of an Open Book at Once
One reason Kim was able to provide so much detail and depth from his voluminous memory was that he could speed-read anything put in front of him. Peek could open a book and read each of the two facing pages at the same time – the left eye reading the left page, the right eye reading the right one, effectively absorbing both pages at once.
Even thick books were filtered into his brain in under an hour using this technique. He became known for going through the better part of the entire catalog of books in the Salt Lake City Library reading everything he could get his hands on.
Providing Instant Driving Directions Between Any Two Cities In The World
Before Google Maps could do it, Kim could.
Among his other reading materials at the library, he absorbed maps, atlases, and travel guides. Using a combination of his near-perfect recall and his prodigious mathematical calculating abilities, Kim could calculate the best routes in his head in an instant, years before anybody thought to put a computer on the job.
Figuring Out What Day Anyone’s Birthday Was On
Not just the date… the day. And not just for modern persons… Kim could tell you in a second that Isaac Newton was born on a Sunday—but also, interestingly, that his birthday was both Christmas Day 1642 and January 4, 1643, since two competing calendars were in use at the time.
Even better, Peek could instantly provide any other notable events that might have happened on the same day from his recall of newspaper headlines and other historical reading.
Reciting Any Shakespeare Play Verbatim
Kim loved Shakespeare and with his high-speed reading skills didn’t have any trouble absorbing the entirety of the Bard’s body of work.
He also enjoyed going to performances of Shakespeare’s plays, but there was a problem… not all of the actors could remember their lines as perfectly as Kim did. When a thespian deviated, even slightly, from the original work, Kim would stand up mid-performance to correct them. An impressive feat of memory, but not something that went over well with the Shakespeare in the Park crowd.
The scene from Rain Man where Raymond hits it big at the Vegas blackjack tables never happened in real life, but Kim did read a book on card counting and had all the mental faculties to perform that feat… but even savants know right from wrong.
When the screenwriter for the movie tried to get Peek to enter a casino to try the experiment in real life, Kim refused, feeling that it would be unethical.
Kim Peek passed away in 2009 of a heart attack, but his feats will not soon be forgotten, thanks to Rain Man. Nor did Peek ever forget his own role as inspiration for the movie—to his dying day, one of his most prized possessions, that he carried with him everywhere he traveled, was the golden Oscar statute given to him by the screenwriter who won it for penning the movie.