The Untold Truth Of Kevin Bacon

Kevin Bacon occupies a unique place in pop culture. An acclaimed and prolific film and TV actor who's been working regularly since the late '70s, Bacon was determined not to go the way of other teenage heartthrobs. So he reinvented his career in the early '90s, and as a result, wound up in some of the most celebrated films of the last few decades. 

But as impressive as creating a successful acting career is all on its own, it isn't just his credits that make Kevin Bacon such an interesting figure. He's fearless in his choice of roles, often embracing parts that other high-profile actors wouldn't go near. He also refuses to be pinned down to a single creative pursuit, and has been a professional musician since the mid-'90s. He's the idol of star-spanning superheroes, he was the victim of one of the century's most reviled crooks, and perhaps most famously (and through no effort on his part), his career has turned into a famous party game. This is the untold truth of Kevin Bacon, Hollywood's most surprising star.

He went back to school for Footloose

Actors often go to great lengths to immerse themselves in their roles. There are stories, for example, of Tom Holland going undercover in a New York City high school before filming 2019's Spider-Man: Far from Home, and Halle Berry visiting an actual crack den for her role in 1991's Jungle Fever. In the case of Kevin Bacon's prep for his breakout leading role in the 1984 musical Footloose, the actor has said a single day of research had a powerful impact on his performance.

Speaking to HuffPost in 2014, Bacon said he went undercover in a Provo, Utah high school for one day in preparation for his role as Footloose's Ren McCormack, and claimed it had a "very, very profound effect" on his work. "It was a terrifying day where a city kid goes to a farmers' day school," Bacon recalled. "People made fun of my tie, made fun of my hair, made fun of the whole thing." Along with recounting how much he was bullied, Bacon said someone he called a "corn-fed kid" felt bad for him and took him under his wing.

That's a lot to experience in just one day. Of course, we don't know if Bacon tried to use the power of dance to help himself out, but somehow, we're pretty sure he didn't.

He reinvented himself as a character actor

In the mid-'80s, Kevin Bacon looked to be on track to become one of Hollywood's next leading men. But that isn't what happened. Speaking to NME in October 2020, Bacon said he was at "the top of the mountain in Hollywood with Footloose," but that after the movie, he "was kind of sliding back down the other side." What followed was a string of leading roles, but largely in flops like 1986's Quicksilver and the 1991 romantic comedy He Said, She Said. Battered by these disappointments, Bacon decided it was time to look at his career differently.

Rather than being a leading man, Bacon focused on becoming a great character actor. Speaking to The Guardian in 2017, Bacon said, "When I made the choice not to look for things where my name was above the title, that started a whole new thing for me." Roles that followed included Jack Ross, the prosecutor facing off against Tom Cruise in 1992's A Few Good Men, astronaut Jack Swigert in 1995's Apollo 13, and most shockingly to many of Bacon's contemporaries, a sex worker in 1991's JFK.

"People said, 'Wow, I never thought I'd see you do that!'" Bacon told NME. "Of course, for me and for the people that actually knew me it was not a surprise ... I've been doing, you know, crazy offbeat characters for a really long time. But to the general Hollywood industry, that was a new thing."

His most requested autograph freaks him out

One of Kevin Bacon's earliest high-profile roles was that of doomed Jack Burrell in the 1980 slasher classic, Friday the 13th. Decades after the film premiered in June 2020, Bacon confessed to Entertainment Weekly that a morbid fan reaction to the film haunts him to this day.

Like a lot of characters, Kevin Bacon's Jack doesn't survive Friday the 13th. As Bacon described, "'I'm lying there, and the hand comes out from underneath the bed and pins my head down, and then an arrow comes shooting out from the back, underneath the cot, through my neck and out through the front." While Bacon told EW that he was forced to stay in a "torturous position" for the shot, that isn't what continues to bother him about the scene. 

In spite of the many roles Bacon's enjoyed since Friday the 13th, the shot of Jack's death is the photo fans ask him to sign most often. "I'm always horrified by the fact that, when it comes to autograph hounds, that's probably the number one picture that I'm asked to sign," Bacon said. "Me, with blood coming out of my mouth and an arrow through my neck. You know, I'm a pretty easygoing guy. After a while, it just gets to you. You're like, 'Really, do I have to sign another picture of me dead?'"

The Bacon Brothers

At this point, big name actors attempting to use their Hollywood clout to sell records is a cliche. Actors like Lindsay Lohan and Corey Feldman famously embarked on musical careers, which ended up serving mainly as fuel for punchlines and memes. But The Bacon Brothers are something altogether different. 

Kevin Bacon and his older brother Michael,  an Emmy-winning musical composer, have released 10 albums as The Bacon Brothers, including 2020's The Way We Love. While they officially formed in 1995, the pair say they have been playing together since they were children, writing on their website, "We've been doing this for several decades if you go back to when we first had instruments in our hands. We were raised in a family that appreciated everything that was artistic." Among their influences they name The Beatles, Motown, Led Zeppelin, the singer-songwriters of the '70s, and "an array of archetypical folkies."

Still, Kevin Bacon doesn't have any illusions about why a lot of people show up to Bacon Brothers concerts. "Sometimes they want to see what I look like in person," he told The Guardian, "and you just hope they leave going, 'The band was good.'" Apparently, the Bacon family's musical talents aren't limited to Kevin and Michael: Kevin's son Travis is also a musician, performing as a guitarist for the black metal band Black Anvil.

The infamous six degrees

One of the most interesting phenomena to emerge from Kevin Bacon's fame is the game Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon. Based on the so-called six degrees of separation ‚ÄĒ the idea that everyone is no more than six social connections away from everyone else ‚ÄĒ Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon operates on the premise that you should be able to connect Kevin Bacon to any other actor by naming six or fewer movies.¬†

Bacon wasn't fond of the game when he first heard about it. When¬†The Guardian¬†interviewed him in 2017, he said he thought the game was a joke at his expense ‚ÄĒ that the point was to compare him unfavorably to whichever actor he was being "connected" to. He was also concerned that the game created an¬†unfair impression that he's "more well known for being well known than for anything [he's] ever acted in."

But Bacon eventually realized the game isn't meant to demean him, and is, in fact, something he could use for good. In 2007, Bacon founded SixDegrees.org, a charitable foundation that helps other charities raise money for their causes.

You probably haven't seen one of his best movies

There's a really good chance you haven't seen one of Kevin Bacon's best films. Released in 2004,¬†The Woodsman¬†features what¬†Today¬†called Bacon's "career performance"¬†‚Äď yet plenty of people were amazed the actor would go anywhere near the role in question. In the film, Bacon plays Walter, a pedophile who's just returned from prison and is trying to control his urges.¬†

 According to Bacon, even some of the people making the film were surprised he was willing to take the role. As he recalled, The Woodsman's producer Lee Daniels asked him, "'Why would you want to do a movie where you play a child molester? That's like the kiss of death for actors!'" Bacon himself admitted in a 2005 interview with Roger Ebert that he was looking for the exact opposite kind of role. "I wanted to do something more mainstream," Bacon insisted. "I wanted to do something where I actually got paid, you know. I was just coming off of Mystic River and I didn't want to do anything dark." But Nicole Kassell's screenplay for The Woodsman was too compelling. "I felt the movie chose me, in a way," Bacon said. "I couldn't say no." From a critical standpoint, at least, it seems he made the right choice, as it's one of the most acclaimed films Bacon's ever appeared in.

He and his wife were victims of Bernie Madoff

In 2009, Kevin Bacon and wife Kyra Sedgwick's names came up in the news as two of the more famous victims of Ponzi schemer Bernie Madoff. The infamous crook swindled upwards of $50 billion from unsuspecting investors like Bacon and Sedgwick. The news resulted in a lot of speculation about the couple's financial situation, most of which Bacon says isn't true. 

When he spoke to The Guardian about it in 2017, Bacon declined to say exactly how much he and Sedgwick lost, but the number is believed to be in the millions. "It was a bad day," Bacon says. "But pretty quickly we were able to see all the things we had as opposed to whatever we lost, and those are the biggest cliches: children, health, love, a nice home." Bacon added that he felt it was the less wealthy investors who were Madoff's "[real] victims," and that he rarely even thinks of the crook.

Bacon also dispelled the widely-held belief that the money he and Sedgwick lost to Madoff is why he chose to appear in a 2012 EE mobile phone ad campaign. When asked about it, Bacon insisted there was "no connection at all," while laughing.

He was shocked to learn he was Star-Lord's hero

As fans of 2014's Guardians of the Galaxy know well, Peter Quill (Chris Pratt), leader of the titular band of space heroes, names Kevin Bacon as one of his idols. When the green-skinned Gamora (Zoe Saldana) says she doesn't dance, Star-Lord tells her about an Earth "legend" in which "a great hero, named Kevin Bacon," teaches a town that "dancing is the greatest thing there is." You might understandably assume that someone let Bacon know he is honored in the film, but according to the actor, he had no idea.

Bacon toldNME that not long after Guardians premiered, someone asked Bacon if he'd seen the movie. "And I said, 'No, I'm not planning on going.' They said, 'Okay, you should go.'" Everyone Bacon spoke to managed to keep the surprise under wraps, and Bacon eventually took their advice. "I sat in the theater all alone on a Tuesday afternoon. And there it was, and it was really kind of shocking."

Bacon said he was "touched" by the mention and reminded NME he'd not only worked with Guardians writer-director James Gunn before, but on a superhero film as well: Bacon played the villainous Jacques in the 2010 black comedy Super. Bacon went on to muse, "when you look at something like The Boys or even Kick-Ass, you know, Super was sort of ahead of its time, just in terms of a concept."

If he's making you laugh, then he's probably playing himself

One genre Kevin Bacon says he hasn't gotten to explore is comedy, and he suspects it's because it's "a little cliquish." He told The Independent that he thinks certain actors who show aptitude for comedy "find their way into these groups of comics and, because they're there, they get opportunities to do it again and again and again." 

Ironically, when Bacon is involved in a comedy, he's usually not playing a character, but a satirized version of himself. In 2010, he showed up as himself in the "Forty-Two Down!" episode of the HBO comedy Bored to Death, in which he expresses interest in playing the movie version of Ray's (Zach Galifianakis) comic book character, Super Ray. In a 2019 episode of SMILF entitled "So Maybe I Look Feminine," Bacon cheats on his wife with the series lead, Bridgette (Frankie Shaw). He also appeared as himself in two episodes of the popular sitcomWill & Grace.

And then, of course, there are his EE Mobile commercials, which include ads in which he plays multiple "Bacons" from different movies. We've got A Few Good Men Bacon, Apollo 13 Bacon, and even Friday the 13th Bacon, complete with an arrow sticking out of his back.

His wife lured him to television

For a long time, Kevin Bacon wanted absolutely nothing to do with television. His feelings on the subject were so strong, he told The Guardian, that his managers knew to never bring it up. Just mentioning the idea would infuriate him: "I'd look at it like a vote of no confidence in my movie career," he said, "that I was going to be sent off to the television graveyard."

Two things changed the actor's mind. First, Bacon couldn't deny that what he was watching on TV was getting better and better. "I looked at the stuff I was consuming," Bacon said. "The Sopranos, The Wire¬†‚Äď and I realized the writers went to TV because they'd been screwed by the movies." But the main reason was Bacon's wife, Kyra Sedgwick. Sedgwick is best known as the expert interrogator Brenda Leigh Johnson on the acclaimed police procedural¬†The Closer.¬†Bacon told NME¬†that he was firmly "anti-television" before his wife's work on¬†The Closer.¬†"Then I saw how creatively rewarding Kyra's experience was and I started to open the door," he recalled. "I picked up the phone, called my reps and said, 'All right, time to start considering television.'"

Bacon's first leading TV role after that call was FBI agent Ryan Hardy on the crime thriller The Following. He's since starred in the Amazon Prime comedy I Love Dick, and later, the Showtime crime drama City on a Hill.  

He bribes DJs to steer clear of Footloose

The entertainment industry spawns plenty of urban legends, and more often than not, you can chalk them up to exaggeration and fertile imaginations. But there's at least one celebrity rumor that's bounced around Hollywood for a while now that's perfectly true. In a 2013 episode of Conan, Kevin Bacon confirmed that when he attends weddings, he bribes the DJs to not play Kenny Loggins' "Footloose," the title song from the musical that made him famous.

"I go to the disc jockey and hand him $20 and say 'please don't play that song,'" Bacon told Conan O'Brien. Apparently, whenever Bacon is invited to weddings, DJs eventually get around to playing the tune, which spurs the rest of the guests into surrounding Bacon and urging him to do his iconic dance. In a 2017 conversation with The Guardian, Bacon said bribing the DJ to skip the song isn't about spoiling anyone's fun. "[A] wedding is the one f***ing night the bride and groom get to be the biggest stars," he pointed out. "So when somebody puts that record on, suddenly, whether I want to or not, I've turned that."

Bacon went on to assure The Guardian his children's weddings would be no exception to the "Footloose" ban. "God, when it comes to my kids' weddings I'll be paying a lot more than $20," Bacon said, "so I guarantee no one will be playing that record."