By: Scott RossPublished: November 11, 2022

Laurence Kim Peek

When Laurence Kim Peek was born on November 11, 1951, doctors originally thought he was "mentally retarded" in the parlance of the time, and told his parents before his first birthday that he'd likely never walk or talk, that they should just institutionalize him. When he was 6, a lobotomy was recommended, despite the fact that he was already well on his way to memorizing the family encyclopedia set, a feat made all the more amazing by the fact that his father once said, “How he learned to read, I just don’t know.”

Peek became such a voracious reader that he learned to read facing pages in a book simultaneously, an eye dedicated to each page. With a tutor as his guide, Peek finished the high school course work at age 14.

“He was the Mount Everest of memory,” said Dr. Darold A. Treffert, who knew Peek for two decades. "A living Google."

Despite Peek's hunger for knowledge and his titanic memory, the wiring of Peek's brain was so atypical that he couldn't perform simple tasks like toothbrushing or dressing himself without help. Peek was again misdiagnosed as autistic, before it was determined that he had FG Syndrome, a rare genetic condition that effects the X chromosome.

In 1984, Peek and his father were at a meeting of the Association of Retarded Citizens (now known as The ARC) in Arlington, Texas, where they met Barry Morrow, a screenwriter who had made two films starring Mickey Rooney based on the life of Bill Sackter, a mentally disabled man. Morrow was so impressed by Peek's memory that he set out to write a script featuring a character based on Kim--that project became Rain Man, the 1988 hit film starring Dustin Hoffman and Tom Cruise.

Hoffman, who spent time with Peek in preparation for the role, adopting his gesticulations, gait and his predilections for sometimes brusque interjections, would go on to win the Oscar for Best Actor for his work in the film, which also won Best Picture, Best Director for Barry Levinson, and Best Screenplay for Morrow and Ronald Bass.

The film changed Peek's life for the better, as all the attention him helped bring him out of his shell, and he spent the rest of his days traveling the world showing off his talents and advocating for the disabled. Peek died of a heart attack at his home in Utah in 2009. He was 58.


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