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Kim Peek: Inspiration for the Movie "Rain Man"

Readmikenow is a freelance writer who enjoys researching music, movies, history, and more.

Kim Peek

Kim Peek

Who Was Kim Peek?

In the movie Rain Man, Dustin Hoffman plays a character who is an autistic savant. He has a unique ability to recall details of historical events, numbers, and more. The movie character can count hundreds of spilled toothpicks at a glance. He can also perform other amazing mental feats.

Rain Man was a very popular movie. Most people who enjoyed watching the movie probably don't know the Hoffman character is based on an actual person named Kim Peek—the real-life Rain Man.

Early Years

Laurence Kim Peek was born on November 11, 1951, in Salt Lake City, Utah. He was born with microcephaly. This is damage to the cerebellum and a condition that affects the bundles of nerves that connect the two hemispheres between a person's brain. This connection was missing in Kim Peek's brain.

Physicians believed Peek's absence of this connection may be the reason for his amazing mental abilities. Peek's father would tell people how Kim could memorize the details of things starting when he was 20 months old.

Peek could quickly read a long book in about an hour. He would remember the specific details of the things he had read. Peek was able to memorize a huge amount of information involving a variety of subjects. They included geography, history, literature, sports, numbers, dates, and music.

His method of reading involved scanning the right page with his right eye as he read the left page with his left eye. It is estimated Peek could easily recall the contents of over 11,000 books. He spent quite a bit of time at the Salt Lake City library reading.

Walking Encyclopedia

Many people were impressed with Peek's ability to store information. He was often referred to as a walking encyclopedia. After looking on maps he had simply glanced at once, Peek was able to provide detailed driving directions for cities around the world.

Someone could mention any day in history to Peek. He could tell the person the day of the week for that particular day. Peek enjoyed strangers asking him what day of the week they were born on. He could tell the person the day of the week and all the important events that occurred on that particular day.

Kim Peek's brain

Kim Peek's brain

Unique Brain Connections

Researchers knew Peek's brain didn't have the connection between his brain's hemispheres that are present in other people. They believe this enabled him to process significant amounts of information quickly.

The other interesting thing about Peek's brain is how it developed different types of connections between the brain's hemispheres that are not present with other people. These unique connections could be the reason for Peek's ability to recall so much information.


Peek's mental situation caused him serious problems during his life. He had an incredible memory but struggled intellectually. Peek had almost no ability to comprehend subjects that involved an ability to reason, such as mathematics. His IQ was low. Researchers put his IQ at approximately 87. This is below the range of normal.

Peek also had developmental problems. He was not able to walk until he was almost four. Peek had to have help to do many basic things, such as buttoning a shirt. He struggled with most tasks involving the use of motor skills. It is believed this was due to the problems with his cerebellum. This is the part of the brain that coordinates such activities.

Peek was fortunate to have an extremely devoted father. He is a man who spent most of his life looking after his son and helping Peek with tasks he struggled to perform.

Kim Peek (left) Barry Morrow (center) Peek's father (right)

Kim Peek (left) Barry Morrow (center) Peek's father (right)

Meeting Screenwriter Barry Morrow

Kim Peek was able to meet screenwriter Barry Morrow in 1984. The meeting took place in Arlington, Texas. The chance meeting occurred at a convention held by the Association for Retarded Citizens.

Morrow was overwhelmed with Peek's ability to know and recall so many things. It was Peek who inspired Morrow to create the character Raymond Babbitt and write the screenplay Rain Man.

Kim Peek and his father with Dustin Hoffman

Kim Peek and his father with Dustin Hoffman

Movie Rain Man

The character of Raymond Babbitt in Rain Man was portrayed as being autistic. Dustin Hoffman played the Raymond Babbitt character. Hoffman spent time with Kim Peek and other savants to understand the nature of their behavior.

The movie was a huge success. Rain Man was released on December 12, 1988, and was the highest-grossing film of that year. It went on to win four Academy Awards. They included Best Picture, Best Actor in a Leading Role, Best Director, Best Original Screenplay written directly for the screen.

Kim Peek and Barry Morrow with Academy Award

Kim Peek and Barry Morrow with Academy Award

After The Movie

With the success of Rain Man, Kim Peek received many requests to make public appearances. It is estimated that Kim Peek gave lectures to approximately two million people after the success of the movie Rain Man. He never accepted any type of payment for his appearances.

After winning an Oscar for Rain Man, Barry Morrow gave his Oscar statue to Kim Peek. It is considered one of the most loved Oscars in the world. This Oscar is believed to have been carried for over 3 million miles. It was touched and photographed by millions of people worldwide. It was part of the effort to bring attention to people with special needs.

Scientific Investigation

In 2004, a group of scientists at NASA's Ames Research Center examined Kim Peek. They performed several tests, including CT and MRI scans. They created a three-dimensional view of his brain. Another study performed on Peek in 2008 confirmed he had a rare X chromosome-linked genetic syndrome. It caused him to have such abnormalities as an abnormally large head known as microcephaly and low muscle tone known as hypotonia.

Scientists concluded that Peek suffered a disability in one area of his brain. His mind compensated by developing astounding new abilities in other parts of his brain. Peek's brain is an example of the intense flexibility of the human mind. It has shed new light on the potential of the human brain.


On December 19, 2009, Kim Peek died of a heart attack at his home in Salt Lake City. He was 58 years old. In his home state of Utah, Peek was known as one of Utah's most unusual and celebrated citizens.

During his life, Kim was the subject of 22 documentaries. He was written about in more than 4,000 articles and the focus of two books written by his father.


© 2020 Readmikenow


Readmikenow (author) on August 12, 2020:

Liz, thanks.

Liz Westwood from UK on August 12, 2020:

This is a fascinating article. It's interesting to read the background to the film and learn so much about the character upon whom it was based.

Readmikenow (author) on August 11, 2020:

Pamela, thanks.

Pamela Oglesby from Sunny Florida on August 11, 2020:

I saw and I remember Rain Man, but I didnot know all these things about Peek. This was a very well-written, interesting article.

Miebakagh Fiberesima from Port Harcourt, Rivers State, NIGERIA. on August 11, 2020:

Fascinating indeed.

Readmikenow (author) on August 11, 2020:

Nathan, thanks. I agree. The story of Kim Peek is fascinating.

Nathan Bernardo from California, United States of America on August 10, 2020:

Very fascinating. I knew about him but didn't know all this about him, interesting story.

Readmikenow (author) on August 10, 2020:

Miebakagh, thanks. I believe if you were to see the movie you would enjoy it.

Miebakagh Fiberesima from Port Harcourt, Rivers State, NIGERIA. on August 10, 2020:

Readmikenow, I enjoy the read, but have not seen the movie. Most be fantastic.

Readmikenow (author) on August 10, 2020:

Flourish, thanks. I have also recently watched the movie and I'm so impressed with everything involved with making it.

FlourishAnyway from USA on August 10, 2020:

What a great movie and an inspirational real person behind the film.Youve encouraged me to revisit the movie with my daughter who has never seen it.

Readmikenow (author) on August 10, 2020:

MG, thanks. I found the story of Kim Peek fascinating.

MG Singh emge from Singapore on August 10, 2020:

I have seen the movie 'Rain man'. Wonderful movie that raises interesting questions. You have put forward everything about the movie in so succulent a manner.Thank you.