A Snowstorm Helped Three College Kids Create The Iconic Six Degrees Of Kevin Bacon Game

Imagine devoting your whole life to your craft — in this case, acting — being nominated for and winning multiple awards handed out by your peers, appearing in a wide variety of acclaimed films across multiple genres ... and yet being mostly known for being a weird pop culture joke. That's what happened to Kevin Bacon. The Pennsylvania-born actor (per Britannica) has appeared in films ranging from goofy frat comedies ("Animal House") to 1980 cultural touchstones ("Footloose") and disturbing dramas ("Murder in the First"). He's played villains, he's played sympathetic characters, he's played the lead, he's played supporting roles. In fact, it's this wide variety of films and roles that formed the basis of the joke he's associated with, according to the New Zealand Herald.

"The Kevin Bacon Game" or, in some iterations, "Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon," involves taking any random actor and connecting him or her to Kevin Bacon, based on movies they and other actors have appeared in, ideally with six or fewer points. And you can thank a bunch of bored college students, snowed in by a blizzard, for coming up with the game.

A Snowy Night In 1999

Back in the waning days of the Clinton administration, according to Insider, a group of college students at Albright College in Reading, Pennsylvania were holed up inside their dorm room while a blizzard raged outside. It was 1999, and entertainment options were limited, so the men — identified by the New Zealand Herald as Craig Fass, Mike Ginelli and Brian Turtle — were watching "Footloose" on TV. During a commercial break, the lads, who by this point had had a few tall, cold ones, caught a commercial for another Kevin Bacon movie — "The Air Up There" — and landed upon an idea. Bacon was seemingly in everything, and eventually they figured that any actor, living or dead, could be attached to Kevin Bacon in some way.

The game became something of a fad around Reading, says Turtle. "[It] became one of our stupid party tricks I guess. People would throw names at us and we'd connect them to Kevin Bacon."

But the lads decided that, if they mailed the right letters to the right people, the game could become worldwide. The guys wrote to Jon Stewart, at the time the host of "The Daily Show with Jon Stewart," and soon enough the guys were on Stewart's and other shows, and the game blew up from there.

Kevin Bacon Has Had Mixed Feelings About The Game

What's it like to have a game that is also kind of a joke named after you? Ask Kevin Bacon, and he'll be glad to tell you that his feelings about it over the decades have been all over the place.

Back in 2014, as CNN reported at the time, Bacon and Turtle met face to face at SXSW, and the actor admitted that, at first, he didn't get it. "People would come up to me and touch me and say, 'I'm one degree!' I didn't really know what was going on," he said. But then when he learned that it was a game, he wasn't amused. "I was horrified by it. I thought it was a giant joke at my expense," he said, although he noted that he's come to embrace it.

That he's come to embrace the game named for him is evident in his website, SixDegrees.org, which connects individuals to charities. Further still, back in 2020, at the beginning of the Covid-19 pandemic, Bacon used the game to promote social distancing. As Rolling Stone reported, Bacon encouraged everyone to stay home, noting that they are certainly connected — possibly by fewer than six degrees — to someone at risk of dying from the deadly illness.