USF: One Degree Away from Kevin Bacon

        The University Lecture Series (ULS) has had a great run this school year with speakers such as Hill Harper, Nicholas Sparks, and Frank Warren to name a few. Well, for #USFWeek and the last lecture of the semester, ULS really brought home the bacon . . . with legendary Kevin Bacon (most recognizable from Footloose, Apollo 13, and the FOX TV series The Following, among others). Matthew Perry, or Chandler Bing from the past TV series Friends, was the original speaker who unfortunately had to take on another commitment. However, Kevin Bacon fans took over the Marshall Student Center ballroom and for a lecture that illustrated a passion for connectivity and doing good.

        Bacon welcomed the audience in jeans and black leather jacket. At that moment, everyone in attendance became one degree away from Kevin Bacon. Bacon told the story of how the “6 Degrees From Kevin Bacon” fad started. He took us back to 1994, where he would ride subways and get tapped by teenagers saying, “ONE DEGREE . . .”I was just playing your game!” At first, Bacon was horrified by the game as he tried to have his career taken seriously. If you’re not familiar, the game is based on the concept where you can connect any two people on earth with six or fewer acquaintances. But that game turned into positive social change.      

“The Footloose Foundation didn’t have the best ring”, Bacon told us, as he reflected on creating his organization. He expressed that being an actor can be such a self-centered thing to do, and that he wanted to make an impact beyond his creative work. So for $3,500, he purchased and went from there. The website states that the organization is “social networking with a social conscience”. The idea is to connect celebrities with grassroot organizations around the world, whether through social media or celebrity “drop-ins”. To illustrate his cause, Bacon gave a surprise visit before his lecture to Give Day Tampa Bay and the Florida Next Foundation, who collaborate for a one-day online giving challenge to raise support for local nonprofits and grow philanthropy in the region. “We’re all connected, we’re riding this planet together”, said Bacon. He had us realize that before Twitter and Facebook, we were all still connected. While these social media tools can be said to separate us, they are in their own strange ways bringing us together.

       The second half of his lecture was a question and answer session with Rich Scibetti from ULS. Of course, the session had to begin with mentioning Footloose. When asked if he thought it would be such a success, he joked about how he did not think it would be such a “dance movie” or how extensive the dances would be. Bacon would tell the director, “you can just turn the music on, I’ll dance.” A remake was made in 2011 with Kenny Wormald and Julianne Hough, and Bacon told us that his first thought was that he didn’t know it was time for the remake (this year marks 30 years since the original Footloose).

        Bacon’s story of his journey to success continued, and we learned that he worked on and off as a waiter during his first years in New York. Soon, he landed the role of Chip Diller in the hilarious film Animal House with Saturday Night Live star of the time, John Belushi. Bacon revealed that with continuing as a waiter, he had to ask his boss could have the night off to attend the Animal House premier in Times Square (in which he arrived at via the subway system).

        The evening concluded with a Q&A with lucky audience members who ran up to the microphones quick enough. There were true Kevin Bacon fans that shared their love for not as well-known films, such as Super, Beauty Shop, and even the animated film Balto. Through this closing session, we learned that the season finale to The Following is going to be bad a*** and that, not-so-spoiler alert: “some people will live and some won’t.” Bacon also spoke of his wife, actress Kyra Sedgwick (The Closer, Phenomenon), and how their matching careers have made for a great relationship. For Bacon’s career, it is not about the size of the part or the size of the budget – he will do a major comic book film, or an indie film – though he does prefer dark roles and dark works. When asked about challenges, he said, “I’ve had some really tough times where I questioned everything, but I never questioned quitting.”

        Audience members left the lecture inspired to check out and maybe re-watch Footloose, for we now understand the philanthropic and down-to-earth actor that is Kevin Bacon.