When Kim Peek was 9 months old, doctors pronounced him so mentally retarded that he would never walk or talk. One physician suggested he be institutionalized; another later recommended a lobotomy. Peek, who died of a heart attack Dec. 19 at 58, was indeed riven by disabilities throughout his life. Born without a corpus callosum--the nerve tissue that connects the brain's hemispheres--he never learned to brush his hair or button his shirt without help.
But buried beneath these afflictions was a mighty intellect unique in the world. Peek was a so-called megasavant, a man with such dazzling recall that he seemed to have ingested encyclopedias whole. He could read both facing pages of a book--one with each eye--in seconds and could instantly tell you everything from the day of the week for a bygone date to esoteric facts about sports history or Shakespeare's canon.
In 1984, Peek's skills floored screenwriter Barry Morrow and helped inspire Dustin Hoffman's savant character in the Oscar-winning drama Rain Man. Peek became an overnight star and spent the rest of his life showcasing his gifts to more than 64 million people. Had he chosen to, he might have memorized every name.