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Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon is a parlor game based on the "six degrees of separation" concept, which posits that any two people on Earth are six or fewer acquaintance links apart. That idea eventually morphed into this parlor game, wherein movie buffs challenge each other to find the shortest path between an arbitrary actor and prolific Hollywood character actor Kevin Bacon. It rests on the assumption that any individual involved in the Hollywood, California, film industry can be linked through his or her film roles to Kevin Bacon within six steps. The game requires a group of players to try to connect any such individual to Kevin Bacon as quickly as possible and in as few links as possible. It can also be described as a trivia game based on the concept of the small world phenomenon. In 2007, Bacon started a charitable organization named SixDegrees.org.
In a January 1994 Premiere magazine interview about the film The River Wild, Kevin Bacon commented that he had worked with everybody in Hollywood or someone who's worked with them. On April 7, 1994, a lengthy newsgroup thread headed "Kevin Bacon is the Center of the Universe" appeared.
Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon first surfaced at about the same time. The game was created in early 1994 by three Albright College students, Craig Fass, Brian Turtle, and Mike Ginelli. According to an interview with the three in the spring 1999 issue of the college's magazine, The Albright Reporter, they were watching Footloose during a heavy snowstorm. When the film was followed by The Air Up There, they began to speculate on how many movies Bacon had been in and the number of people he had worked with. In the interview, Brian Turtle said, "It became one of our stupid party tricks I guess. People would throw names at us and we'd connect them to Kevin Bacon."
The trio wrote a letter to talk show host Jon Stewart, telling him that "Kevin Bacon was the center of the entertainment universe" and explaining the game. They appeared on The Jon Stewart Show and The Howard Stern Show with Bacon to explain the game. Bacon admitted that he initially disliked the game because he believed it was ridiculing him, but he eventually came to enjoy it. The three inventors released a book, Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon (ISBN 9780452278448), with an introduction written by Bacon. A board game based on the concept was released by Endless Games.
Bacon also appeared in a commercial for the Visa check card that parodied the game. In the commercial, Bacon wants to write a check to buy a book, but the clerk asks for his ID, which he does not have. He leaves and returns with a group of people, then says to the clerk, "Okay, I was in a movie with an extra, Eunice, whose hairdresser, Wayne, attended Sunday school with Father O'Neill, who plays racquetball with Dr. Sanjay, who recently removed the appendix of Kim, who dumped you sophomore year. So you see, we're practically brothers." In a similar vein, Dave Barry, in a column describing the unexpected complications that emerged when he attempted to find out the precise wording of the Lone Ranger's catchphrase, connected the Lone Ranger to Kevin Bacon in the following way: the Lone Ranger was the Green Hornet's great-uncle; the Green Hornet and O. J. Simpson both hung out with people named Kato; Simpson and Robert Wagner co-starred in The Towering Inferno; Wagner and Bacon co-starred in Wild Things.
The concept was also presented in an episode of the TV show Mad About You dated November 19, 1996, in which a character expressed the opinion that every actor is only three degrees of separation from Kevin Bacon. Bacon spoofed the concept himself in a cameo he performed for the independent film We Married Margo. Playing himself in a 2003 episode of Will and Grace, Bacon connects himself to Val Kilmer through Tom Cruise and jokes "Hey, that was a short one!".
Bacon provides the voice-over commentary for the NY Skyride attraction at the Empire State Building in New York City. At several points throughout the commentary, Bacon alludes to his connections to Hollywood stars via other actors with whom he has worked.
In 2009, Bacon narrated a National Geographic Channel show 'The Human Family Tree' – a program charting the work of the Genographic Project and its work on the genetic interconnectedness of all humans.
In the summer of 2012, Google began to offer the ability to find an actor's Bacon number on its main page, by searching for the actor's name preceded by the phrase, "bacon number".
EE began a UK television advertising campaign on November 3, 2012, based on the Six Degrees concept, where Kevin Bacon illustrates his connections and draws attention to how the EE 4G network allows similar connectivity.
The Bacon number of an actor or actress is the number of degrees of separation he or she has from Bacon, as defined by the game. This is an application of the Erdős number concept to the Hollywood movie industry. The higher the Bacon number, the farther away from Kevin Bacon the actor is.
Here is an example, using Elvis Presley:
Therefore, Asner has a Bacon number of 1, and Presley (who never appeared in a film with Bacon) has a Bacon number of 2.
As of 6 February 2013[update], the highest finite Bacon number reported by the Oracle of Bacon is 11.
Because some people have both Bacon and Erdős numbers because of acting and publications, there are a rare few who have an Erdős–Bacon number, which is defined as the sum of a person's independent Erdős and Bacon numbers.
A small proportion of actors have an undefined Bacon number, meaning that they cannot be linked to Bacon in any number of connections at all. According to the Oracle of Bacon website, approximately 12% of all actors cannot be linked to Bacon using its criteria, but this number is difficult to verify.
While at the University of Virginia, Brett Tjaden created the Oracle of Bacon, a computer program that uses information on some 800,000 people from the Internet Movie Database (IMDb). The algorithm calculates "how good a center" an individual IMDb personality is, i.e. a weighted average of the degree of separation of all the people that link to that particular person. The site returns an average personality number, e.g. for Clint Eastwood, it returns an average "Clint Eastwood Number." From there the Oracle site posits "The Center of the Hollywood Universe" as being the person with the lowest average personality number. Kevin Bacon, as it turns out, is not the "Center of the Hollywood Universe" (i.e. the most linkable actor). In fact, Bacon does not even make the top 100 list of average personality numbers. While he is not the most linkable actor, this still signifies being a better center than more than 99% of the people who have ever appeared in a film. Since each actor's average personality number can change with each new film made, the center can and does shift. "Centers" have included Rod Steiger, Donald Sutherland, Dennis Hopper and Harvey Keitel (the current center as of April, 2013). Karen Black was the current and all-time highest woman in the list before R.I.P.D was released.
Inspired by the game, the British photographer Andy Gotts tried to reach Bacon through photographic links instead of film links. He wrote to 300 actors asking to take their pictures, and received permission from one, Joss Ackland. Ackland then suggested that Gotts photograph Greta Scacchi, with whom he had appeared in the film White Mischief. Gotts proceeded from there, asking each actor to refer him to one or more friends or colleagues. Eventually, Christian Slater referred him to Bacon. Gotts' photograph of Bacon completed the project, eight years after it began. Gotts published the photos in a book, Degrees (ISBN 0-9546843-6-2), with text by Alan Bates, Pierce Brosnan, and Bacon.