Ken Pittman – “The Modern Day Elephant Man” Who Touched So Many Lives
By Mai-Li Havas (and edited by Ken’s brother Ross Pittman)
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.
999 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.