Born in 1951, Kim Peek was an American savant, who provided the inspiration for Hollywood blockbuster “Rain Man”. He was born with severe damage to part of the brain, which created enormous difficulties for him in living a normal life.
However Kim Peek was blessed with an extraordinary learning capacity, such that he could memorise thousands of books from an extremely early age. Indeed, such was Peek’s ability that he could read both left and right pages of a book – and memorise them – simultaneously. This ability to instantly memorise and recall vast amounts of material is known as photographic or eidetic memory, and very few authentic cases have been reported.
Peek’s father Fran refused to accept medical advice that his son would be unable to enjoy a normal life, and dedicated himself to Kim’s care and guidance. Such was his father’s devotion that Kim Peek once described the pair as “sharing the same shadow”.
The Peeks travelled worldwide to demonstrate Kim’s abilities and help inspire and educate fellow disability sufferers. Hollywood scriptwriter Barry Morrow listened to Kim Peek’s story with astonishment, and penned Rain Man as a result; while not an accurate portrayal of Peek himself, the central character shared many of the savant’s mannerisms and abilities. The film would ultimately win four Oscars, including Best Actor for Dustin Hoffman, who became an enormous fan and devotee of the Peeks.
Kim Peek’s abilities made him subject to intense scrutiny throughout his life; NASA scientists studied his brain and he underwent lengthy examinations from brain specialists at the University of Chicago. Initially mis-diagnosed with autism, Peek’s social skills and confidence appeared to improve as a result of his new-found fame.
Several similar cases of astounding memory and recall have been reported, some even rivalling the abilities of Kim Peek. Stephen Wiltshire, a British architect who suffers from autism, is able to memorise and then accurately draw entire city skylines after a single flight over the city, while philosopher and guru Swami Vivekananda was said to be able to memorise numerous volumes of an encyclopaedia in several days. Renowned scientist and inventor Nikola Tesla also reputedly possessed astonishing abilities to memorise books and languages.
Kim Peek died in December 2009 following a heart attack.