Family eulogizes Kim Peek as an intellectual gift to others

Published: Wednesday, Dec. 30 2009 12:00 a.m. MST

Brian Peek and his wife, Elizabeth, comfort each other during graveside rites Tuesday for Kim Peek. (Michael Brandy, Deseret News) Brian Peek and his wife, Elizabeth, comfort each other during graveside rites Tuesday for Kim Peek. (Michael Brandy, Deseret News)
TAYLORSVILLE, Utah — Kim Peek was a man with many unusual gifts and challenges.

In the last two decades of his life, Kim became a gift to others that his family was initially reluctant to share.

Described once as the "most prodigious intellectual mega-savant in the world," Kim Peek was eulogized Tuesday not only as the inspiration for the title character in the hit movie "Rain Man" — a role for which Dustin Hoffman won an Oscar — but for Kim's own role in teaching a vast worldwide audience about disabilities and acceptance.

The Murray man died Dec. 19 of an apparent heart attack. He was 58.

Both Fran Peek, Kim's father, and Brian Peek, his brother, described initial reluctance to have Kim publicly identified with the 1988 film that swept the Oscars for Best Picture, Best Actor, Best Director and Best Original Screenplay. His brother thought it a massive invasion of the family's privacy. Fran Peek first said no because of Kim's severe mental disability: "I won't let them put him on display and hurt him."

Ultimately, though, Kim became a celebrity in many circles because of his gentle soul and his massive intellect in more than 15 diverse areas, from music and sports to math and history. He was so complex, in fact, that while Barry Morrow's screenplay was inspired by Kim, Hoffman also studied other savants, his father told mourners at his funeral at the Taylorsville LDS Stake Center.

Kim sat beside Morrow during the movie's premiere, Fran Peek said. Afterward, Morrow asked him why he never once looked at the screen.

"I watched it with my heart," Kim replied. And evidently memorized it, as well, along with his beloved Bible, the Book of Mormon, the Doctrine and Covenants and thousands of other books he could recite word-for-word.

Brian Peek reminisced about an older brother who was reading from the Old Testament as a toddler — "He taught himself to read when he was about 3" — but who required constant supervision and help. Kim blossomed under the attention he received as "Rain Man."

He traveled nearly 3 million air miles and spoke with nearly 60 million people.

"I am so glad he got to express himself and take his message to people," Brian Peek said.

A letter from the First Presidency of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, read by Bishop James A. Sterzer, noted that "Kim's charm and wit will be greatly missed," and he was hailed by church leaders as "an influence for good in the lives of many."

Kim Peek loved lists, so it was fitting that the back page of the program had a list of things he loved. Among them: family, little children, friends, Shakespeare, music, Reader's Digest books, LDS General Conference, reminiscing, phone directories, sausage rolls, funny songs and riddles, and Mom's textbooks.

He's also survived by his mother, Jeanne Willey Peek Buchi, and his sister, Alison Peek.

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