Everyone remembers the 1988 Oscar Award-winning movie, Rain Man starring Dustin Hoffman and Tom Cruise, but few people realize the movie was based on an actual person, a Salt Lake City resident, no less. Students had the chance to meet and question Kim Peek last week when he visited campus to share his miraculous story and special gift.
Peek has a rare condition called Savant Syndrome. He suffered brain damage at a young age, which caused developmental disability. Savants, as they are called, have one or more areas of expertise or brilliance in contrast to any disability. In Kim Peek’s case, he has an incredible memory and ability to read and retain information quickly. He has memorized thousands of books, zip codes, and area codes.
Peek travels across the nation accompanied by his father, Fran, who also cares for him. Fran told students many stories of Peek’s fascinating life, travels, and experience with the Rain Man film.
“After the success of the movie, Mr. Hoffman (Dustin) told me, ‘Fran, I have to ask you one thing. You’ve got to share him with the world.’ Before the movie, we never traveled with him, but I promised Mr. Hoffman I would and now he has spoken in front of hundreds of thousands of people,” Peek said.
Students took full advantage of Peek’s incredible mind, asking him questions about anything and everything they could think of. Peek did not always have an answer, but flashes of brilliance showed off his gift.
Another gift Peek shares wherever he travels: the 1988 Academy Award for best screenplay. After Rain Man won the award, screenwriter Barry Morrow gave the statue to Peek to share with the people he speaks to. Fran passed the well-worn gold statue across the crowd to allow everyone the opportunity to touch an Oscar.
The positive and loving attitudes of Fran and Kim Peek are best stated by Kim’s own mission statement: “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. Care… be your best. You don’t have to be handicapped to be different. Everyone is different!”