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Rain Man, the dramedy about a remarkable autistic man (Dustin Hoffman), was the big winner at the Oscars 28 years ago, claiming best picture, director (Barry Levinson), actor (Hoffman) and adapted screenplay, for which two statuettes were awarded: one to Barry Morrow, who wrote a script inspired by his friend Kim Peek, a “megasavant” he met after winning an Emmy for writing the 1981 TV movie Bill, another classic about a person with special needs; and the other to Ron Bass, who polished Morrow’s version.
Most Oscar winners proudly display their statuette where many will see it; Morrow has taken that to the extreme. He rarely has seen his in the years since Amy Irving and Richard Dreyfuss handed it to him — but it’s probably been more widely seen and held by others than any Oscar in history.
When Kim and his father visited Morrow after the Oscars, Morrow recalls, “Kim asked to hold my Oscar, and then spent the rest of the day carrying it with him everywhere we went. He just loved the Oscar more than me, so I let him take it.” The Peeks brought it with them to speaking engagements all over the world, and Morrow quickly realized the power it had to help bring awareness and acceptance of people with special needs — so instead of asking for it back, he encouraged the Peeks to hold on to it.
By Kim’s count — and, if you’ve seen Rain Man, you know he could count — the statuette traveled nearly 3 million miles, was seen by some 1.3 million people and was held by roughly 400,000 people prior to Kim’s death in 2009. It visited nearly every state in America, as well as parts of Europe, Africa and Asia, where which people with special needs still are stigmatized.
Morrow, who’s now 68 and recently wrote and directed Smitten!, a film starring Darren Criss, says the statuette, which he formally gifted to the Peeks’ home state of Utah in 2008, has been making its way through China this past year. “There’s not much gold plating left where it’s been held by the waist, and its head has dents from being dropped. A few years ago, when I saw all the wear and tear and asked Kim what had happened to all the gold, he responded, ‘It’s on the hands of the children.’”
A version of this story first appeared in the Feb. 24 issue of The Hollywood Reporter magazine. To receive the magazine, click here to subscribe.
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