In one way, Kim Peek could be any teacher's dream. With virtually total recall, he can remember everything he's ever read, and he reads two pages at a time - one eye to each page.
But Kim, 40, also has a mental handicap. He cannot interpret what he reads. He has the reasoning capacity of a child.Kim is the megasavant who was the inspiration for the 1988 Academy Award-winning movie "Rain Man," which starred Dustin Hoffman as a character patterned after Kim and his remarkable talents. The social, personable Kim, however, is not autistic like the character portrayed by Hoffman.
The movie made Kim an instant celebrity, and he was deluged with requests for interviews and speaking engagements. At first, his father, Fran Peek, worried about Kim's becoming a sideshow. But that fear was quickly dispelled.
Not only does Kim impress with his memory, he also takes a message to his speaking engagements - a message that he has delivered to 90,000 adults and 120,000 children in the past three years.
"He says you need to recognize and respect persons who are different and treat them like we'd all like to be treated," his father told an overflow audience at the Utah Education Association.
In fact, said Fran Peek, the recently retired public information officer for the State Office of Education, Kim once told a group of junior high students: "I'm different, but you're different, too."
That quote delighted the schoolteachers.
For more than an hour Friday, Kim, his head often tilted to one side as he walked up and down the aisle, let the teachers test his phenomenal memory by asking questions. He occasionally punctuated his answers by stroking a bald head or rubbing noses with a particular teacher.
He correctly answered questions about history, geography, sports, literature, the Bible and classical music to an appreciative audience that laughed with him and applauded his abilities.
For any town with more than 2,000 residents, Kim, in a matter of seconds, gave the state, the route and highway on which they are located, the area code and the ZIP code.
When a reporter asked about Vincennes, for example, Kim correctly placed it in Indiana on U.S. Highway 50 on the Lincoln Trail next to the Wabash River. With another question, Kim correctly named Vincennes' most famous resident - George Rogers Clark. A national monument dedicated to the frontiersman is located in Vincennes.
Kim also correctly named the U.S. president who, as the territorial governor of Indiana, once lived in Vincennes, William Henry Harrison, and quoted from one of his speeches.
"When was he president?" his father asked.
"1841 for 30 days," Kim replied, adding that Harrison lived from 1773 to 1841. Harrison caught a cold on his inauguration day and died a month later.
After his talk, when introduced to the Deseret News reporter, Kim said correctly, "Deseret News, 141 years old, oldest newspaper west of the Mississippi, June 15, 1850, a Saturday (the first issue)."
Kim repeated similar demonstrations of memory again and again throughout his presentation.
When a teacher told his or her birthday, Kim could recite the day of the week in which the person was born, what was happening in the world that day and when the person will retire.
No one could stump him on sports. He rattled off World Series scores, winning pitchers and their years. He quoted Shakespeare and hummed classical music.
Kim's intellectual IQ has been estimated at 184, compared with a reasoning score of 88. Average intelligence is 100. Physicians at several locations have been studying his brain, his father said.
Fran Peek limits Kim's appearances each week so they don't overrun his life. But even after three years of attention, the man with the remarkable memory isn't tired of being on center stage. He leaves no doubt of that. Does he enjoy performing? "Yes" is his succinct reply.