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Six Degrees of Separation: Kevin Bacon Turns 57!

Six Degrees of Separation: Kevin Bacon Turns 57!
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By Stephanie Schroeder

Actor Kevin Bacon turns 57 today (July 8, 2015). Bacon is somewhat of a beacon for boomers such as myself, a 50something formerly of middle America who remembers the actor portraying teenage alcoholic Tim “T.J. ” Werner on The Guiding Light in the 80s. But, Bacon actually made his on-screen acting debut in the 1978 cult-classic Animal House.

On this day of momentous occasion and celebration, I want to mention some things about Bacon, the star of dozens of films, still most notably remembered for Footloose, that illuminate boomerdom through Bacon’s trajectory to stardom.

Films Bacon has starred in include Apollo 13, Footloose, Hollow Man, Mystic River, Friday the 13th, and Tremors. For his role in The River Wild, alongside Meryl Streep, he won a Golden Globe Award. Playing a broad range of characters, Bacon has inhabited the roles of prosecuting attorney in A Few Good Men and a gay prostitute in JFK.

Bacon met his wife, actor Kyra Sedgwick, on the set of “Lemon Sky” in 1988. They have a son, Travis, and a daughter, Sosie. He tours in a band, The Bacon Brothers, with who else but his brother. Bacon received a star on the “Hollywood Walk of Fame” in 2003.

“Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon” is a game is based on the belief that you can connect any actor by naming six or fewer actors until you reach someone with a connection to him. At first embarrassed and offended by the game, Bacon came to embrace it as the satire and homage it was meant to be. He even founded the nonprofit SixDegrees.org, a social network with a social conscience. The web site offers a place to learn about and support the favorite charities of friends and celebrities, as well as fundraise for individual causes. Other causes Bacon supports, as reported by Look to the Stars, are Adoption, Fostering, Orphans, AIDS & HIV, Cancer, Children, Civil Rights, Conservation, Creative Arts, Disaster Relief, Economic/Business Support, Education, Environment, Gender Equality, Health, Homelessness, Human Rights, Hunger, LGBT Support, Miscellaneous, Philanthropy, Poverty, Unemployment/Career Support, Voter Education, Women.

But, when all is said and done, Kevin Bacon is human, just like the rest of us. It’s been reported that he lost the majority of his savings during the Bernie Madoff scandal.

Because we couldn’t obtain an interview with Bacon, we touched base with Patrick Reynolds, who currently (as of 7/4/15) maintains The Oracle of Bacon, billed as “the most comprehensive version of the Kevin Bacon game on the web.” Here is a transcript of our email interview:

Q: Have you ever met Kevin Bacon, or heard form him? I read that he was initially embarrassed by the game, but then came around to embrace it with humor…

A: I haven’t met Kevin Bacon. The site’s founder, Brett Tjaden, flew out and met Kevin Bacon in 1996: http://rt.cs.virginia.edu/misc/news-bacon.html

Yes, Kevin Bacon was originally annoyed by the game, but came to embrace it once he realized it was a sign of respect, not mockery. http://www.cnn.com/2014/03/08/tech/web/kevin-bacon-six-degrees-sxsw/

Q: Any fun facts not widely know about Bacon we might be able to mention?

A: I don’t know any more about him than you do. I’m even terrible at the Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon game if I don’t have my website handy.

Q: Why did you all take “Six Degrees” online?

A: I wasn’t the founder. Brett Tjaden and Glenn Wasson built it as graduate students at UVA, to test out a new research database that was under development at UVA at the time.  There’s also a certain mindset, perhaps, among computer programmers: if we see a task that software could do better than humans can, we write the software. The Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon game is pretty hard for people, but really easy for computers.

Q: What are the mathematical equations/assumptions behind the Oracle of Bacon, is it anything laypeople can understand?

A: The Oracle of Bacon uses something called a “breadth-first search” to build its links. Let’s say you want to connect Kevin Bacon to 1910s silent-film star Mary Pickford. The Oracle first makes a list of everyone with a Bacon number of one, which is everyone Kevin Bacon has ever been in a movie with. Then it makes a list of people those people have been in movies with, which is the list of people with Bacon numbers of two.  Then it does the same for those people, to make a list (it’s a big list at this point) of everyone with a Bacon number of three.  Since Mary Pickford is on that list, the Oracle of Bacon can stop. The whole process takes about half a second. It’s sort of like trying to find the grocery store by checking every road one mile from you, then every road two miles from you, then every road three miles from you, and so on.

Q: And why do you do it, fun, sport, because you can?

A: In 1999, the Oracle had been abandoned, because Brett got his PhD and a real job.  The UVA CS Department’s webmaster thought the site was good publicity, so he asked me to update it. I did, and it’s been a fun hobby ever since I’m in it more for the technology behind it than for the movie trivia.  I get email sometimes from almost-famous people asking about their own Bacon numbers, or from CS professors who want to use the site to teach their classes. It’s a fun thing to geek out about.

Q: Is there any film actor, as far as you know, who cannot be connected to Kevin Bacon?

A: Generally people in films that come from new or obscure production groups.  Remember The Blair Witch Project? There were no Hollywood people in that, so initially, those people all couldn’t be connected to Kevin Bacon. But then they got famous and did projects with Hollywood people, and they all got Bacon numbers of two or so.  Probably Clerks, too.  Other films like that — indy films or student films starring only outsiders — are a good source of unconnectable people, at least for a while.

Q: Can you tell us a little about yourself? 

A: I’m a computer programmer and have been since elementary school.  I went to UVA and Duke and eventually settled in Florida. I work for GitHub. I have two young daughters who I hope will share my interest in computers someday.

HTH.

[WTF? We had to look this up in the Urban Dictionary: “hope this helps”]

Sources:

Famous Birthdays: http://www.famousbirthdays.com/july8.html

10 Facts: http://www.10-facts-about.com/Kevin-Bacon/id/535

The Oracle of Bacon: https://oracleofbacon.org/help.php

Photo credit: By Genevieve – Uploaded by MyCanon (Kevin Bacon) [CC BY 2.0 (http://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0)], via Wikimedia Commons

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