Entertaining and compelling real-life stories with valuable
lessons on how to succeed in business and in life.
The author is successful business, real estate, and media entrepreneur Dick Kazan.
Published on January 26, 2010

Today: A valuable lesson from Kim Peek, the real life “Rain Man.”

Picture yourself in 1951 and for 9 long months, you and your family have waited excitedly for your baby to be born.

Will this baby grow up to become a great scientist or a business leader or even become President of the United States? Everything seems possible.

Now he’s born, and while everyone is joyfully congratulating you, your doctor takes you aside and in a dark, foreboding tone says, “We need to talk.”

Feeling sick to your stomach, you listen as he tells you your baby was born brain damaged and retarded. “If he survives,” the doctor adds, staring into your eyes, “He’ll have no quality of life. He belongs in an institution.” This was the message the Peek family received about Kim.

But while science can measure brain function, how does one measure desire? How can anyone measure the determination a person has to make the most of his abilities?

It turned out Kim’s brain had serious abnormalities and he had problems with ordinary reasoning and basic coordination but he also was a savant, meaning his brain had a tremendous capacity to learn. He taught himself to read before he was 6, and eventually he read thousands of books at the library near his Salt Lake City home.

When he read a book, his left eye read the left page while simultaneously his right eye could read the right page and he could remember what he read.

He memorized Shakespeare’s writings, many of the great classical music compositions and vast sections of telephone directories across the U.S.

Kim also knew the dates and details of what happened each day over the centuries. If you gave him your birth date, he could instantly tell you what day of the week it was, the major events that happened and the weather. As one of his doctors said, “He was the Mt. Everest of memory.”

As for his formal education, when Kim was 7, his father, his primary care giver after his parents divorced, hired a tutor part-time for him. This tutor continued to work with him and by the time he was 14, he had completed his high school studies.

But Kim’s brain never fully developed. He needed help to do simple functions such as putting his clothes on or brushing his teeth. And for many years, despite the encouragement of his family, he lacked self-confidence and seldom could look others in the eye.

Then in 1984 came a life changing event for Kim. At the annual Association of Retarded Citizens, conference, he and his father Fran met Hollywood screen writer and producer Barry Morrow.

Barry had co-written “Bill,” the real life story of Bill Sackter, who was taken from his family when he was just 7 because he was supposedly retarded and he spent the next 44 years in a mental institution.

Later testing showed he was only slightly below normal intelligence, but unfortunately because he had been categorized as retarded he was never taught to read and write or to function in society. After Bill was released, he moved to a halfway house and did odd jobs to support himself.

Years later, while working in a country club, he met Barry Morrow and his wife Bev who became his friends and supporters and then his guardians. When Barry accepted a position at Iowa University, Bill moved with them and operated Wild Bill’s campus coffee shop, becoming very popular with students, faculty and staff.

In 1981, CBS broadcast Barry Morrow’s movie “Bill,” starring Mickey Rooney, which touched the hearts of millions of people. Rooney won an Emmy for his heart warming performance and the film won an Emmy as an outstanding drama special. Two years later, they broadcast the sequel.

As he observed Kim’s incredible memory skills at the Retarded Citizens conference, Barry began to sketch a possible movie character that later with co-writer Ronald Bass, evolved into Raymond Babbitt in the 1988 Academy Award winning best picture, “Rain Man.”

In the film, Raymond, played by Dustin Hoffman, is a savant and autistic (learning disabled) and institutionalized from a young age.

When their father dies, his brother Charlie, played by Tom Cruise, comes to claim his inheritance and re-discovers his long forgotten brother Raymond, who as a small child unable to pronounce Raymond; he had called “Rain Man.”

Embittered by his lack of inheritance from their wealthy father, Charlie kidnaps Raymond from the institution and as they drive across the U.S. to Charlie’s Los Angeles home, they have a series of colorful adventures, and they bond, building a close relationship that will continue after Raymond is returned to the institution.

In preparing for the role, Dustin Hoffman got to know Kim Peek and patterned his portrayal of his character on him, which for Hoffman would win an Academy Award as Best Actor.

In accepting the Oscar, Hoffman thanked Kim. But when Barry Morrow accepted his Oscar for best screenplay, he gave the statuette to Kim who proudly carried it with him for the rest of his life, a life that ended in 2009, when Kim passed away at age 58 from a heart attack.

But what a life it was. After “Rain Man,” Kim traveled widely, demonstrating his memory skills in front of large audiences. From this experience, his mind grew and he was able to joke with them. Meanwhile, his coordination improved to such an extent he began to play the piano.

And always, the Oscar accompanied Kim when he spoke. His dad Fran told The New York Times an estimated 400,000 people hugged that statuette. “We call it the world’s best-loved Oscar.” *

Meanwhile, Kim’s speaking skills and self-awareness became so advanced, that after speaking to an audience at Oxford University in England, when a young woman asked,” Kim, are you happy?” He replied, “I’m happy just to look at you.” *

Success Tip of the Week: The valuable lesson is Kim isn’t the only gifted one. We all are for we use only a small fraction of our brain power and have skills far beyond those we may know. Kim because of difficult personal circumstances tapped into a big piece of his potential. Imagine what could happen if you or I concentrated on developing our abilities.

Editor's Note *All quotes are from The New York Times obituary, “Kim Peek, Inspiration for “Rain Man,” Dies at 58.” http://www.nytimes.com/2009/12/27/us/27peek.html?_r=1&pagewanted=print.

Thank you to Webmaster Jon Barnes for providing the New York Times obit and for suggesting this compelling story.

In the next KazanToday: Is it too late for you to advance your education? I’ll tell you of a woman who did so starting at the age of 62.

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Many of these short, inspirational success stories are about people from all walks of life who overcame seemingly insurmountable obstacles to achieve remarkable results. These stories contain practical advice and a recipe for success for each of these renowned individuals. Some of their stories may help you to avoid some of the costly and time consuming mistakes that many of us make in life and at work. Learn from some of history's greatest winners on how to become a winner yourself, no matter what the obstacle, and no matter how daunting the task before you may seem. Good luck!
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