Monday, December 21, 2009

A Tribute to Kim Peek (1951-2009)

I would like to say a few words to pay tribute to Kim Peek, who passed away December 19th, at age 58. I was informed yesterday morning, but wanted to await Kim’s father Fran’s permission before making the news public.

For those who don’t know, Kim was the inspiration for Dustin Hoffman’s character in the Oscar-winning movie ‘Rain Man’.

I met Kim and his father Fran in July 2004, in Salt Lake City, Utah. Our time together was filmed for the documentary film “Brainman” (pun intended) and many viewers subsequently told me that this sequence was the highlight of the film. I also dedicated a chapter of my 2006 memoir “Born On A Blue Day” to our encounter.

Kim was a remarkable human being, blessed with astonishing mental gifts; he also battled numerous handicaps throughout his life. At the same time, he was funny, provocative, and down-to-earth. I remember fondly how he regaled me (and the documentary’s film crew) with all manner of facts and jokes, tunes and anecdotes. When I interviewed his father Fran, he was unsurprisingly extremely proud of his son, and vividly described Kim’s history and current life, which included much travel across the States with the important message that difference needn’t be a disability, because everyone’s different.

The memory I most treasure of Kim is of our mutual feelings of joy and excitement at finding someone who understood, in some small way, what it was like to think and feel and perceive the world very differently. We spent a long time swapping facts and figures with the kind of affection normally reserved for the gossip and reminiscences of old friends. And it really did feel as if we had known each other for years. There was a warm and wonderful ease and intimacy between us. I was and remain profoundly moved and inspired by the experience.

Meeting Kim and Fran helped me to learn much about what it means to be a savant, and a man. Kim faced his condition, its blessings and its burdens, with great courage, humour, and dignity. I must also pay homage to the tremendous and untiring dedication of Fran, on whom Kim depended and of whom he famously said: “We share the same shadow.”

Rest in Peace.

(If you would like to learn more about Kim's life and about Savant syndrome in general, please visit the excellent website by Dr. Darold Treffert, the world's leading expert on the condition: