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April 13, 1913|
St. Paul, Minnesota
June 16, 1983 (aged 70)|
Iowa City, Iowa
William "Bill" Sackter (April 13, 1913 – June 16, 1983) was an American man with an intellectual disability whose fame as the subject of two television movies and a feature-length documentary helped change national attitudes on persons with disabilities.
Bill Sackter was born in St. Paul, Minnesota in 1913, the son of Sam and Mary Sackter, Russian Jewish immigrants who ran a grocery store. When Sackter was 7 years old, his father died from complications of the Spanish Flu. It was 1920, and Bill was having difficulty learning in school, and after taking a mandatory intelligence test, he was classified as "subnormal". The State of Minnesota determined that he would be a "burden on society" so he was placed in the Faribault State School for the Feeble-Minded and Epileptic. Sackter never again saw his mother or two older sisters, Sarah and Alice, remaining there for the next 44 years. He was diagnosed as intellectually disabled, although diagnoses performed decades later would prove his intelligence was near normal. He was never taught to read or write or even how to use a telephone.
Encounter with Barry Morrow
In 1964, when new light was being shed on the treatment of the mentally ill and disabled, Sackter was moved to a halfway house and worked odd jobs to support himself. He eventually became a handyman at a country club, where Barry Morrow, a filmmaker, and his wife Bev, befriended him. Morrow began slowly to make life a bit more comfortable for Bill, getting him new dentures and becoming his friend. Morrow became his guardian, and when he took a post at the University of Iowa, Sackter followed him to Iowa City, and became the sole proprietor of Wild Bill's Coffee Shop on the campus, in which he excelled.
Sackter's story was told in two television movies. Bill was presented in December 1981, with Sackter portrayed by Mickey Rooney in a role that brought him an Emmy Award and a Golden Globe. The movie also won an Emmy as outstanding drama special. A sequel, Bill: On His Own, costarring Helen Hunt, was released in 1983.
Sackter died in his sleep in 1983.
Sackter's story is told in the 1999 book The Unlikely Celebrity: Bill Sackter's Triumph Over Disability by Thomas Walz.
A Friend Indeed – The Bill Sackter Story, a feature-length documentary, was completed in June 2008. Created by filmmaker Lane Wyrick, the documentary explores the life of Bill Sackter using historic photographs, film and video footage, along with interviews with those closest to Bill. Much of the archival footage was taken by Barry Morrow as early as 1972.
The documentary shows how Bill Sackter was allowed to develop as an individual with help from many others, and become an important member of the Iowa City community as proprietor of Wild Bill's Coffee Shop. It also follows his rise in becoming a national figure that helped change society's perception of people with disabilities.
The documentary was voted the "#1 Audience Favorite" in five film festivals: The Kansas International Film Festival, Hardacre Film Festival, Omaha Film Festival, Cedar Rapids Independent Film Festival, and the New Strand Film Festival.