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Savant who inspired Rain Man dies
CBC News

The disabled savant who inspired the title character in the film Rain Man, starring Dustin Hoffman, has died.

Kim Peek, known for his remarkable memory, died of a heart attack Saturday morning in Salt Lake City, according to his father, Fran Peek. He was 58.

Screenwriter Barry Morrow had met Peek at a convention in the early 1980s and based the Rain Man character on him.

Peek was a megasavant who was a genius on 15 subjects ranging from history and geography to numbers and music. Megasavant is a term used for mentally disabled people who show genius-level abilities in several areas.

Yet he was painfully shy, his social skills developing very slowly. He walked with a sidewise gait and lacked basic motor skills — he could not dress himself or comb his own hair.

"It was just unbelievable, all the things that he knew," Fran Peek said Monday. "He travelled 5,500 miles short of three million air miles and talked to nearly 60 million people — half have been students."

The character Morrow created in Rain Man was a socially backward savant with several endearing characteristics, including regular rants about People's Court and refusing to fly with any airline but Qantas.

Rain Man won four Oscars, including best picture and best actor for Hoffman. Morrow shared a best screenwriting award with co-writer Ronald Bass.

'Share him with the world'

Hoffman met Kim Peek while playing the role of Rain Man and was impressed by his ability to remember everything that was said to him.

Hoffman advised Fran Peek, then his son's sole caregiver, not to hide his son away.

"Dustin Hoffman said to me, you have to promise me one thing about this guy, share him with the world," Fran Peek recalled.

Kim Peek eventually went on tour, demonstrating his abilities to dispel misconceptions about mental disability.

He was born in 1951 in Salt Lake City and doctors diagnosed him as severely mentally retarded and advised his parents to place him in an institution.

Yet he learned to read and could read eight books a day, committing large sections of text to memory. He could read two pages simultaneously, his left eye reading the left page and his right eye reading the right page.

In his later years, NASA studied his brain patterns in an attempt to understand his mental capabilities.

Peek's parents divorced in 1975 and his father took care of him his entire life.

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