Skip to main content
Part of complete coverage on

Kevin Bacon on 'Six Degrees' game: 'I was horrified'

Brandon Griggs, CNN
 Actor Kevin Bacon, right, with Brian Turtle, co-creator of the 'Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon' game, Saturday at SXSW.
Actor Kevin Bacon, right, with Brian Turtle, co-creator of the 'Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon' game, Saturday at SXSW.
STORY HIGHLIGHTS
  • Actor thought 'Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon' game was making fun of him
  • Bacon: "I was horrified. I thought it was a giant joke at my expense'
  • Game asks players to link other celebs to Bacon by movies they have in common
  • Founded by three college buddies, game is now 20 years old

Austin, Texas (CNN) -- Almost two decades ago, a parlor game called "Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon" became an unlikely grass-roots phenomenon among movie buffs and foretold today's social web of online connections.

Maybe the only one who was not amused by the game was Kevin Bacon himself.

"I was horrified by it. I thought it was a giant joke at my expense," said the prolific actor Saturday during a talk at the South by Southwest Interactive festival here. "I appreciate it now. But I was very resistant to it (at first)."

The game, which celebrates its 20th anniversary this year, requires players to link celebrities to Bacon, in as few steps as possible, via the movies they have in common. The more odd or random the celebrity, the better. For example, O.J. Simpson was in "The Naked Gun 33⅓" with Olympia Dukakis, who was in "Picture Perfect" with Kevin Bacon.

Inspired by "six degrees of separation," the theory that nobody is more than six relationships away from any other person in the world, the game was dreamed up in 1994 by Brian Turtle and two classmates at Albright College in Reading, Pennsylvania. They were watching "Footloose" on TV when it was followed by another Kevin Bacon movie, and then another.

Watch out! This drone will tase you
Snowden to speak at SXSW

"It was just one of those lightbulb moments," said Turtle, who joined Bacon onstage at SXSW. "It was like, 'This guy is everywhere! He's the center of the entertainment universe.' "

After it spread among their friends, Turtle and his co-creators, Craig Fass and Mike Ginelli, managed to get booked on Jon Stewart's then-MTV show to explain the game.

Meanwhile, Bacon was becoming aware of it, too.

"I started to kind of hear about it in strange ways," said the actor, still boyish at 55. "People would come up to me and touch me and say, 'I'm one degree!' I didn't really know what was going on."

Bacon thought the game would be a fad. But it endured, and he eventually embraced it.

"I don't think it's a great testament to my ability (as an actor)," he said. "My movies just happen to be on a lot."

In 2007 Bacon launched SixDegrees.org, a charitable organization that connects celebrities with good causes for fundraising purposes.

The "Six Degrees" game has also inspired a website, The Oracle of Bacon, which lets people type in any actor's name to see how closely they link with the "Footloose" actor. The site assigns each celeb a "Bacon number" to show the number of degrees of separation between the two.

Google now lets users type "Bacon number" in the search field, followed by an actor's name, to produce the same result.

It's rare to find a veteran actor who is not linked to Bacon in some way, and rarer still to find a Bacon number of 4 or higher. It helps that Bacon has appeared in more than 65 movies, including many with large ensemble casts such as "Diner," "Flatliners," "JFK," "A Few Good Men," "Sleepers," "Mystic River" and "X-Men: First Class."

Bacon, currently filming the second season of his Fox drama "The Following," admitted Saturday that he occasionally needs to use The Oracle of Bacon himself.

"Whether it's my age or my misspent youth, sometimes I forget whether I've worked with somebody or not," he said. "I'll look at the call sheet, check the name, and then I'll check their Bacon number. That way I can go on the set and say, 'Good to see you,' or 'Good to see you again.'"

Several other celebrities with tenuous ties to Bacon joined him onstage Saturday, including actress Felicia Day, who noted that "'Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon' is really the idea of social media before there was social media."

The talk closed with fellow panelist Lance Ulanoff, editor of tech site Mashable, shooting a Vine video of Bacon with the audience waving in the background. That way, Bacon said, everyone in attendance in Austin is now just one degree of separation away from him.

Assange to SXSW: We're all being watched

ADVERTISEMENT
Part of complete coverage on
SXSW
updated 7:53 AM EDT, Wed March 12, 2014
The first thing you notice about the Travis County Correctional Complex is the door.
updated 8:14 AM EDT, Wed March 12, 2014
For the first time in years the co-founder of Twitter is back at the South by Southwest Interactive conference, where Twitter first and famously blew up in 2007.
updated 8:13 AM EDT, Wed March 12, 2014
Almost two decades ago, a parlor game called "Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon" became an unlikely grass-roots phenomenon among movie buffs and foretold today's social web of online connections.
updated 8:39 PM EDT, Mon March 10, 2014
In a rare public talk via the Web, fugitive NSA leaker Edward Snowden urged a tech conference audience to help "fix" the U.S. government's surveillance of its citizens.
updated 2:20 PM EDT, Mon March 10, 2014
NSA leaker Edward Snowden speaks to a crowd during the 2014 SXSW conference. CNN's Laurie Segall reports.
updated 6:19 AM EDT, Tue March 11, 2014
Actor George Takei reacts to NSA leaker Edward Snowden's speech at the South by Southwest Festival in Austin, Texas.
updated 8:13 AM EDT, Wed March 12, 2014
"I definitely taught my parents how to text and how to charge their phones," she said. "I'm sure that's not uncommon for many people in this room."
updated 8:44 PM EDT, Sun March 9, 2014
From his sanctuary in the Ecuadorian embassy in London, WikiLeaks founder Julian Assange said that everyone in the world will be just as effectively monitored soon -- at least digitally.
updated 12:05 PM EDT, Mon March 10, 2014
CNN's Laurie Segall is at the SXSW conference where she got to witness a test run of a remote controlled stun drone.
updated 10:18 PM EDT, Sun March 9, 2014
Night gathers, and now your watch begins. You're not just watching an episode of "Game of Thrones" -- you're living it.
updated 3:31 PM EDT, Mon October 20, 2014
Here is a look at South by Southwest, a collection of music, film and interactive conferences and festivals held annually in Austin, Texas.
updated 1:50 PM EDT, Thu March 13, 2014
Celebrities and fans pose for selfies at SXSW 2014.
ADVERTISEMENT