Dick Clark & The Rainman Twins
Dick Clark ushers in another year to the delight of autistic twin savants worldwide
Watching the 81-year-old post-stroke Dick Clark soldier on through last night's "Dick Clark's New Year's Rockin Eve" celebration in Times Square (co-hosted since 2005 with Ryan Seacrest, who's been patiently waiting in the wings until the time Clark - who had a stroke in 2004 - finally gives up the ghost), made Amy and me recall the ageless American Bandstand host's biggest fans - ones who like him also suffer from a disability: Flo and Kay Lyman. They're sometimes called "The Rainman Twins," because, like Dustin Hoffman's character in Barry Levinson's 1988 film Rain Man, these autistic identical twin savants from New Jersey also have an incredible talent that belies their otherwise developmentally challenged lives: an amazingly complex memory that enables them to catalog historical dates, pop music, and everything involving their favorite celebrity, Dick Clark. Experts have estimated that there are only 100 savants living today possessing "genius" ability in some specialized field; Flo and Kay are the only identical twin sisters among them.
Flo and Kay: The Rainman Twins
We learned about Flo and Kay after watching a 2008 TLC documentary directed by Dave Wagner called Beyond Ordinary: Twin Savants, that was originally an episode of the UK television series Extraordinary People called The Rainman Twins. I was channel surfing and when I came across the sisters, their savant abilities reminded me of a former co-worker who could never mention a film without automatically spitting out the year it was made, its director, and the studio that produced it; he would actually be in agony if you named a film he couldn't identify in this manner or got the particulars wrong about - something I attributed to being just another OCD- or Asperberger Syndrome-afflicted member of my ill-chosen profession. But I could see how important this routine was to him; it was a comfort zone, much like what the rigidity of habit is to savants - a control mechanism that enables them to get through each day.
Starting in 1973, they never missed an episode of The 100,000 Pyramid and memorized every outfit Clark and the contestants wore on the show, as well as the types of buzzers and how many times they went off, from the first episode ("March 26, 1973" as they automatically note) until the last in 1996. When the gameshow was canceled in 1996, the two sisters went through a personal crisis ("We prayed for it to come on,” says Flo. “And our mother always used to say, ‘Your prayers are always answered.’ But this time it doesn’t work"), but that was nothing compared to the one they went through when Dick Clark suffered a stroke in 2004. They actually got to meet their idol before and after his stroke and have maintained a friendship with him for over 25 years. Calling him the father figure they never had growing up, they even made plans to be buried with all their Dick Clark memorabilia. These gals make me think of Patty and Selma with their McGyver obsession on The Simpsons - except Flo and Kay's obsessions are real.
But their eyes for detail aren't limited to just Dick Clark. They've also kept files on Pat Sajak, Alex Trebek, and broadcaster Dave Wagner. According to the UK's Mirror ("We Love Documentary: Extraordinary People," 7/23/2008),
"Even in the world of autistic savants, Flo and Kay Lyman are unique. They're the only identical twins to have this extraordinary condition that, as one expert puts it, makes them part-retarded and part-genius...Flo and Kay don't forget anything that has ever happened to them. 'We've got a microchip in our brain,' is how they describe it.
They can tell you what they ate on a certain day, what the weather was like, and have an encyclopaedic knowledge of every song they've heard or read on an album cover."
In fact, among their many special talents is the ability to compute the day of the week for any date – past or future. In other words, the twins are a human computer - a walking and talking (not-just-Dick Clark-obsessed) Google search engine. Just one that requires a lot of help with almost every other aspect of life that doesn't interest them, especially social skills and personal care. As doctors have observed, despite Flo and Kay’s outgoing natures, they still possess the signature signs of autism: minimal eye contact, poorly modulated voices, and an inability to engage in conversation.
I don't think their documentary is available for purchase and it doesn't look like it'll show up on TV anytime soon, so following are some clips I found on (where else?) YouTube.
Watch "The Rainman Twins, Part 1 of 6."
Watch "The Rainman Twins, Part 2 of 6."
Watch "The Rainman Twins, Part 3 of 6."
Watch "The Rainmen Twins, Part 4 of 6."
Watch "The Rainman Twins, Part 5 of 6."
Watch "The Rainman Twins, Part 6 of 6."
Now 53 and still living with their brother and sister-in-law in New Jersey, I'm sure Flo and Kay stayed up late last night to watch Dick Clark count down the New Year (and probably were even a little jealous when he kissed his wife at Midnight).
And, sign of the times, Flo and Kay even have a Facebook page: Fans of Flo and Kay Lyman. I wonder if Dick Clark is one of their 359 friends?