SXSWorld May 2014


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4 0 S X S W O R L D / M A Y 2 0 1 4 evin Bacon may have been in Austin for only one day during SXSW, but he sure made the most of it. Officially in town to host the Interactive panel "Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon: A Social Phenomenon Turns 20," he truly seized the gray and rainy Saturday with an early morning appearance at the Rock Your Camo for Women Veterans 5K, filmed an '80s-themed Mashable video that has since garnered more than two million views on YouTube, and flashed a ready smile for countless photos. Lesser mortals would have found themselves exhausted by sun- down. But the 55-year-old Bacon, toughened by grueling shooting schedules for his Fox drama e Following, was just then gearing up to host dozens of nonprofit leaders at a networking mixer. Before festivities got underway, he paused to nurse a beer and reflect on his surprisingly enduring celebrity stature. After a breakthrough in 1984's Footloose, Bacon strug- gled to find starring roles, and he seemed to be in danger of being relegated to one-hit-wonder status, like many other once- promising '80s stars. By the mid-90s, he had earned respect for his supporting appearances in such films as Apollo 13, JFK and A Few Good Men, but his reputation got an unexpected boost from tiny Albright College in Pennsylvania. A handful of students, bored during a 1994 snowstorm, began challenging one another to name movies that connected Bacon to other actors. "Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon" was born, and its popu - larity as a party game expanded rapidly. e Oracle of Bacon website launched in 1996, as did the official Six Degrees book. A board game followed. While the game may have caught on quickly, its namesake initially was reluctant to endorse the concept. "I take my work really seri- ously, and I've always wanted to be thought of as a 'serious' actor. And it just seemed silly," Bacon said. "Would you rather embrace the idea of an Oscar, or the idea of a game named after you? "In my mind I kind of felt they were mutually exclusive. Which, who knows, they may be. But my thinking about it shifted when I met the guys who created the game. ey were nice and disarmingly young college kids who actually liked my movies." Even with the explosive nature of "Six Degrees" in those early years, he never expected the game to have staying power: "I thought it would go away like any other pop fad: the Preppy Handbook, pogo sticks, pet rocks. ey all came and went. Someone said today in the panel, which I thought was an interesting question: 'Do you think that if this idea came around now it would have the hang time 20 years from now?' I don't think it would because things go so quickly now. We're disposable with our concepts." His name may be the glue that binds the gameplay, but Bacon sees that as more of a fruitful coincidence than a core function. "It could have been anybody. ere are a lot of actors a lot more connected than me. And you can take me out of it, which I like," he said. "I don't think it's an acknowledgment of the great work that I've done—it's not that. It's an acknowledgment of the fact that we like the idea of being connected to each other. "Ask somebody if they've ever been to Austin, and they're just as likely to say 'I've never been there, but I know a guy…' as they are to say 'no.' And that's the same idea as Facebook. at's the same idea as Twitter. at's just what people do. We make connections." People have been using "Six Degrees" to connect actors and actresses to Bacon for 20 years. Now, he is extending those connective benefits to nonprofits. e recently re-launched seeks to connect community organizations to celebrities who can help promote the nonprofits' causes through social media or provide no-cost personal appearances. For Bacon, SixDegrees. org is a chance to help others to use the very tools that helped keep him culturally relevant throughout his career's peaks and valleys: "It's about trying to turn it around a little bit, pay some stuff back and have some gratitude for the fact I've been able to make a good living as an actor." As his whirlwind day was winding to a close, Bacon said he would head home energized by the enthusiasm he had witnessed in and around SXSW. "It's great to see and be surrounded by all this energy where people are trying to really embrace technology," he said. "Being dismissive of ideas that are young and fresh and saying, 'well, yeah, but back in my day…' is a surefire way to an early career grave." Do take his word for it: if nothing else, 20 years of "Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon" has proven the value of embracing young and fresh ideas. n After 20 Years, Kevin Bacon Still Knows the Power of Connections by Patrick Nichols K Kevin Bacon R I C H A R D M C B L A N E / G E T T Y I M A G E S

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