Kim Peek, the savant who helped inspire the Oscar-winning movie Rain Man, has died of a heart attack at age 58.
Peek was “the Mount Everest of memory,” according to a fascinating little obituary in The NY Times, but his powers were offset by his total social awkwardness:
Mr. Peek had memorized so many Shakespearean plays and musical compositions and was such a stickler for accuracy, his father said, that they had to stop attending performances because he would stand up and correct the actors or the musicians.
“He’d stand up and say: ‘Wait a minute! The trombone is two notes off.'”
Rain Man wasn’t based on Kim Peek’s actual life, but screenwriter Barry Morrow began the script after meeting Peek at a meeting of the Association of Retarded Citizens in 1984. The film came out in 1988 and Dustin Hoffman won the best actor Oscar as the title character, the autistic savant Raymond Babbitt.
The Daily Mail weighs in with a claim that in later years Hoffman snubbed Peek after having “honed his Oscar-winning performance by studying his… peculiar mannerisms, movements and diction during an intense six-hour encounter at a Hollywood studio.” Well, maybe.
MSNBC has a more interesting archived Today Show report on Peek’s memory. It really kicks in about the 3:00 mark, when Peek begins reciting the stops on Interstate 5 south of Ashland, Oregon, then adds a full report on the 1957 World Series.