Ken Pittman – “The Modern Day Elephant Man” Who Touched So Many Lives

Written by on May 31, 2014 in Inspirational with 10 Comments

By Mai-Li Havas (and edited by Ken’s brother Ross Pittman)

Ken Pittman, aka Peggo the Leggo - The Modern Day Elephant Man, February 19, 1958 - May 20, 2014

Ken Pittman, aka Peggo the Leggo – The Modern Day Elephant Man,
February 19, 1958 – May 19, 2014

Recently, my boyfriend’s 56 year old brother Ken Pittman died in his sleep.  Ken had a genetic disorder called neurofibromatosis (NF).  NF disturbs cell growth in the nervous system, causing tumors to form on nerve tissue internally and on the skin externally. These tumors may develop anywhere in the nervous system, including the brain, spinal cord, and nerves. NF is often very painful to live with physically, mentally and emotionally.

Unfortunately, there is currently no cure for NF, which is also known as the “elephant man” disease. NF is not contagious and is often misunderstood by people who are not familiar with this illness.

To make matters worse, Ken was also born with a left leg in which the bones in the bottom half of his leg never grew properly. As a result, he wore a leg brace until his lower leg was eventually amputated in his late teens. Acutely aware of his condition, he called himself “Peggo the Leggo.”

Ken had such a strong spirit to overcome the stares, mean words, finger pointing, and rejection all throughout his life. He was incredibly kind, gentle, and warm.  His proudest achievements and happiest times occurred after he joined a traveling freak show troupe called 999 Eyes in 2005.  The founders Samantha X and Dylan Blackthorn (both musicians), and most of the other musicians did not have physical abnormalities. Their music and show incorporated various “freaks” (beautiful human beings) including a lobster boy, a lobster girl, a half-girl, a half-man, a dwarf, a midget, a giant, and “Peggo the Leggo – the Modern Day Elephant Man.”

Everyone in the troupe was treated with love and respect for who they were – not what they looked like. The heart connections they all felt for one another set an example for how we all should be towards others regardless of their outward appearance.

Ken-Pegleg-card999 Eyes toured all over the U.S. and were featured on T.V. in National Geographic's Taboo series in an episode titled “Extreme Performers” as well as on other TV shows and countless magazines. Professionally designed souvenir cards of each of the “freaks” were sold at the shows. The “Modern Day Elephant Man” card (seen on the right) featuring Ken was almost always the top seller.

Ken’s act evolved over time. He started out as a scary axe murderer, but later he just talked about what it was like to have NF (see the above video). It was the one serious moment in the show, and the most touching. After one show, a young adult male came back the next day and brought his mother (who also had NF) with him to meet Ken. The young man told his mom that he was ashamed for being embarrassed by her NF and that he would proudly introduce her to his friends from then on.

Sadly, many people in society judge people by how they look and treat those who are less fortunate with disdain.  Ken was called disparaging names and was mistreated by so many people he came in contact with over the years. In the above video, Ken talks about getting thrown out of a library solely due to his appearance. Because of the frequent ridicule, Ken chose to live the last seven years of his life in a very small town in Texas – where the number of people he would be in contact with was limited.

As an observer having watched Ken move forward in life despite his outward appearance and speech impediment, I was struck with awe and admiration by his courage and positive demeanor.  Despite being in constant pain (remember that NF attacks the nerves), he always greeted everyone in such a cheerful manner. Whenever you called Ken, he always made it clear that he was really happy to be speaking to you. I know that I was uplifted by my conversations with him and heard the joy in his voice.

Every human being deals with various trials and tribulations during their life, but some have it much worse than others. We should not add to their woes by judging and treating them poorly simply due to their appearance. We must be aware that unkind words can really hurt someone like Ken, who only wanted to be seen for his true essence.  He had a golden heart and cared about people and animals alike. Ken adopted and dearly loved his cat named Charley, who has feline HIV. (Note that we are currently looking for someone who lives near Cottonwood Shores, TX to take Charley).

I take comfort in knowing that Ken has transitioned back to his spiritual essence and is enveloped in love – no longer encumbered by his defective and painful Earth body.  He is likely being applauded for touching so many lives in a positive way.  Angel Ken taught me many lessons about dealing with adversity and unconditional love.

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  1.' jason says:

    I met you in Austin at jim rose sideshow and immediately took a liking to you I’m sad at your exit but happy you found peace I’ll miss not being able to have the opportunity to know you better.

  2.' Greg Jefrferies says:

    I have known Ken for 35 years but haven’t seen him for about 10 years. I met him when I first met my step brother Steven Vavrek. They were both in the Boy Scouts together and both had disabilities. Ken and I became very good friends over the years and I had the honor to meet most of his family in Torrance, California. I must tell all of you that although his appearance may have startled some, his heart was genuine. I’ve slept over many times when Ken lived in both Long Beach and Torrance and was never once afraid of his condition or that I might catch something. People just didn’t know his condition or educated on it. I was just thinking that I hadn’t talked to him in a while. His cell wasn’t working and land line was changed. Texas is far from Calif these days so that is all we had. I tried this internet and found that he had passed just today. I can’t tell you how sad I am not being able to say goodbye to him. If this is all I have to honor him, then I do so now. Goodbye Kenny Pooh. I will miss you

  3.' Greg Jefrferies says:

    Miss you buddy.

  4.' David Kessler says:

    This is a great write up on Ken. I knew him most of my life as he grew up in the house right behind mine. We stayed friends and whenever I went back to California, I would visit him, most recently in his condo in Long Beach. I took my wife and 3 year old daughter to meet him just before he headed off to Texas. Ken was so great with my daughter.

    Over the years we always stayed close through email and the phone as I had moved to the Denver area in 2000.

    Since Ken was 4 years older than me, we didnt do much together until we were teens, during the CB era. His handle was the Winemaker. People would tease him – including friends of mine who quickly became ex friends. I was amazed at how he took the garbage in stride. I knew he was just a different guy and I really admired that, how he could maintain such a good heart through it all.

    In 1994, i was battling clinical depression and decided to try to run the LA Marathon. Ken offered to take me there, wait for me to run the race and take me home. I told him I didnt want him to have to wait around and do all of that walking as he had been struggling with his leg. He insisted anyway. We ate like kings that night at his favorite mexican restaurant in Long Beach.

    In 2013, i was diagnosed with cancer and the treatments made it difficult for me to stay on top of things and i didnt communicate with Ken as much. We last exchanged emails in Feb 14, 2014.

    Two days ago, while driving to california to visit my parents during a small break in my treatments, I began talking to my wife about Ken and how I hadnt heard from him in so long. She got on her phone and found this page. I was shocked to learn of Kens passing.

    Ken never had much in material things and I know he really struggled emotionally and physically with the disease and the people who would try to beat him down and for that I am glad that he finally has peace. He leaves a legacy of caring and kindness in the face of the worst of people and health. Examples we should all live by.

    Rest in peace my friend

    •' clnews says:

      Hi David. Ken’s brother Ross here. Thank you so very much for your beautiful testimonial. It really touched me. I think fondly of Ken every day. I really miss him. Blessings, Ross

  5.' Michelle says:

    Even though I never met Ken, he’s a huge inspiration to me. He makes me realize how much I let little things bother me a lot more then they should. He’s had to deal with far worse things than I’ve ever had to deal with yet he keeps such a positive attitude through it all. Ken, you’re truly amazing and an inspiration to all.

    •' clnews says:

      Thank you Michelle. I really appreciate your kind words about Ken. He inspires me every day. -Ross (Ken’s brother)

  6.' Cas says:

    I remember playing basketball with Ken at Entradero Park in Torrance, Ca when I was a kid. He had a pretty mean hook shot!

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