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Man Who Inspired 'Rain Man' Dies At 58

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Man Who Inspired 'Rain Man' Dies At 58

Remembrances

Man Who Inspired 'Rain Man' Dies At 58

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ROBERT SIEGEL, host:

From NPR News, it's ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. I'm Robert Siegel.

MICHELE NORRIS, host:

And I'm Michele Norris.

A unique life ended this weekend, someone you might not think you know. His name was Kim Peek. He was 58 years old. He died of a heart attack in suburban Salt Lake City.

Kim Peek was the inspiration for the Dustin Hoffman character in the 1988 film "Rain Man." He memorized almost everything he read and he heard, and he did this despite severe mental handicaps.

NPR's Howard Berkes has this remembrance.

HOWARD BERKES: Kim Peek couldn't operate a light switch and he couldn't button his shirt, but his memory was so vast and deep and exact:

Dr. DANIEL CHRISTENSEN (Clinical Professor of Psychiatry, University of Utah Neuropsychiatric Institute): He was, in a way, a bit like a computer. In fact, there were those who called him Kimputer.

BERKES: Daniel Christensen is a clinical professor of psychiatry at the University of Utah's Neuropsychiatric Institute. And during the last 20 years, he examined, tested and traveled with Peek.

Dr. CHRISTENSEN: He had a bottomless memory. Of course, that's really little more than recalling a fact. Then the ability to reason with them, to make sense of them, to know the implications, to make judgments based on them, that's a very different thing, and that's sort of where his mental abilities ended.

BERKES: Peek was born without the bundle of fibers that connect the right and left hemispheres of the brain, but he mastered details about history, math, music, geography and more. Most savants have a single focus.

In 1988, Dustin Hoffman portrayed a character based on Peek in the film "Rain Man." Here, Hoffman's character frustrates his brother, played by Tom Cruise, because he refuses to get on a plane.

(Soundbite of movie, "Rain Man")

Mr. DUSTIN HOFFMAN (Actor): (As Raymond Babbitt) American flight 625 crashed April 27, 1976.

Mr. TOM CRUISE (Actor): (As Charlie Babbitt) We don't have to take American. There's a lot of flights.

Mr. HOFFMAN: (As Raymond Babbitt) Yeah, pick another airline. Continental Airline crashed November 15, 1987, flight 1713, 28 casualties.

BERKES: The movie made Peek famous as the real Rain Man, and he was the subject of hundreds of articles and documentaries. This German film includes a scene in which American history students test Peek's memory.

(Soundbite of movie)

Unidentified Woman: This is my birthday: August 5, 1947.

Mr. KIM PEEK: It was a Tuesday. And this year, it's a Friday. And (unintelligible), a Sunday.

Unidentified Man: And what was the Best Picture when she was 15?

Mr. PEEK: "Lawrence of Arabia."

Unidentified Woman: That's right.

BERKES: Even NASA studied Peek, whose memory was sharp to the end. It was his heart that gave out this weekend. Daniel Christensen says there has never been and may never be another savant like Kim Peek.

Howard Berkes, NPR News, Salt Lake City.

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