Kevin Bacon, what a gift to the world. He turns 62 today (that’s July 8th), and he’s still going strong in Hollywood, producing and acting. Ever since breaking out in 1978 playing Chip Diller in National Lampoon’s Animal House, the man has been entertaining us with hits and cult classics ever since.
Seriously, can we just take a moment to appreciate some of the classic films he did in the 80s & 90s alone?:
- Friday the 13th (1980)
- Footloose (1984)
- Planes, Trains & Automobiles (1987)
- Tremors (1990)
- Flatliners (1990)
- A Few Good Men (1992)
- The Air Up There (1994)
- Apollo 13 (1995)
- Wild Things (1998)
But his filmography aside, there’s one other thing Kevin Bacon is known for, and that’s Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon.
You know the game. It’s a play on the concept of six degrees of separation, the theory that posits all human beings in the world are just six or fewer social connections away from one another. With the Kevin Bacon version, also known as Bacon’s Law, you simply take any actor in Hollywood and show how they can get to Kevin Bacon in less than six jumps. It’s become such an established part of pop culture that Bacon, who once said he used to be “horrified” by it as he thought it was a joke at his expense, came to embrace it. He founded the Six Degrees organization in 2007, a nonprofit organization that “turned the Six Degrees game connecting him to other Hollywood actors into a game-changing nonprofit aimed at using everyday activities to connect people and causes.”
More recently, he launched the Six Degrees social distancing initiative during the coronavirus shutdown.
The game is simple: Take an actor, living or dead, and trace ’em back to Kevin Bacon in six jumps or fewer. It works almost every single time, because Kevin Bacon is clearly secretly the epicenter of Hollywood and the hub around which it spins.
For example: Let’s take a relative newcomer to acting, Janelle Monaé. Her first feature role was only four years ago in Hidden Figures, and Bacon’s work pace has slowed down in the past few years. There’s no way they’re connected in six or fewer jumps, right?
Janelle Monae was in Hidden Figures with —> Kevin Costner who was in JFK with —> Kevin Bacon. That’s only two degrees of separation.
Let’s try another breakout A-lister, Margot Robbie: Margot Robbie was in Peter Rabbit with —> Rose Byrne who was in X-Men: First Class with —> Kevin Bacon. Again, just two degrees of separation.
Tom Holland? Let’s see: Tom Holland was in Avengers: Infinity War with —> Josh Brolin who was in Hollow Man with —> you guessed it, KEVIN BACON.
Fine. Let’s try a dead actor. Let’s go with…Jimmy Stewart. Jimmy Stewart was in Hollywood in Uniform with —> Eddie Albert who was in The Big Picture with —> Kevin Bacon. Really starting to think we should rename this game to Two Degrees of Kevin Bacon.
But how on earth did this game start? It’s a funny story, really, as it began the way so many dumb-but-fun party games do: with drunk college students. Back in the mid-90s, four college students at Albright College in Reading, PA were snowed in, holed up in a dorm room and watching TV. Naturally, as college students do, a few adult beverages had been imbibed and it was after watching Footloose and Quicksilver back-to-back and then seeing an ad for another Kevin Bacon movie, The Air Up There, that the seed of the idea started to germinate in their booze-soaked minds. It seemed to them that Kevin Bacon was in everything and they started drunkenly trying to figure out what actors Bacon had worked with.
Eventually, the college student movie fans turned it into what we know the Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon game today. Said one of those former students, Brian Turtle, “[I]t became one of our stupid party tricks I guess. People would throw names at us and we’d connect them to Kevin Bacon.”
And then, just because they were four college students having fun, they shot their shot, writing a letter to Jon Stewart (yes, longtime host of The Daily Show), explaining the game and informing him that Kevin Bacon was the center of the entertainment universe. They soon appeared on The Jon Stewart Show and The Howard Stern Show with Bacon himself to play the game, and from there it blew up and became the pop culture party game we all know. It’s been referenced and parodied countless times, with a website, The Oracle of Bacon, even popping up to do the work for you.
If you’re still holed up in quarantine, what better way to both celebrate Kevin Bacon’s birthday and pass the time than having a few drinks, popping on a Kevin Bacon marathon, and playing Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon? Seriously, it’s the least we could do for a man who gave us this classic scene:
We should all honor this living legend and national treasure. Clear your schedule this weekend, ’cause it’s Bacon time.