Suffering from agenesis of the corpus callosum, a condition similar to autism, Kim Peek was also blessed with astonishing mental facilities that inspired the film Rain Man and, in turn, millions of people with disabilities throughout the world. His parents, both Mormons, were advised to place their nine-month old son in an institution but chose to bring him up with his brother and sister. At sixteen months he was reading children's books; yet he was four before he could walk. When he was six, a neurologist advised a lobotomy but his parents refused and by seven he could recite the Bible. At 14 he qualified for his final school certificate but the local authorities refused to recognise it.
In 1981 his parents divorced and his father, Fran, assumed sole care of his son. In 1984 they attended a conference in Texas for the ill-named Association of Retarded Citizens where Kim recalled the zip code, area code and road numbers of every US state. The scriptwriter Barry Morrow was in attendance and became inspired to write Rain Man. Dustin Hoffman was cast in the role of Kim as Raymond Babbit and won an Oscar for his portrayal (Morrow also won one for his script and gave it to Kim, who treasured it and took it everywhere). Hoffman copied Kim's monotone, his rocking movements and his ability to read cards, but much of the plot is fiction, especially the sene in a casino, which Kim had never entered, believing it to be unethical.
While he never learnt to comb his own hair or to dress himself, he is estimated to have read - and memorised - 12,000 books in his lifetime. He had a photographic memory and was able to read two pages simultaneously, with one eye each. Studies showed him to be a genius in fifteen subjects. Many institutions subsequently reassessed their treatment of the mentally impaired. Having spent a day with Kim preparing for the role, Hoffman encouraged his father to "share him with the world". Father and son subsequently criss-crossed the United States and addressed as many as two million people. Fran Peek refused to accept appearance fees. At every event he would hand out a card that read, "Learning to recognise and to respect differences in others and treating them like you want them to treat you will bring the joy we all hope for."
Kim Peek was born on November 11, 1951, and died on December 19. * The National