There was a time when Kevin Bacon was really annoyed with that whole six degrees thing.
“On the subway, people were literally coming up and touching me going 'One degree!' … I hated the idea. I wanted to be a serious actor, and all the sudden here I was a party game. I thought it was a big joke at my expense,” Bacon said of the phenomenon that started in 1994, challenging players to connect him to anyone else in Hollywood in only six steps.
Time has reversed that stance. Twenty years after a pair of college students invented it, Bacon has embraced the six degrees idea, as he told an audience of hundreds of fans Tuesday night at the University of South Florida in Tampa.
“When you take me out of it and think about the idea of six degrees, the idea is a beautiful one, it's that we're all connected. That we are riding here on this planet together, that the things we do in our communities affect people on the other side of the world.”
Bacon, who was visiting the university for its annual Student Lecture Series, spoke for close to 90 minutes, discussing his sixdegrees.org charity before sitting down for a Q&A that focused on a film career that includes roles in “Footloose,” “A Few Good Men,” “X-Men: First Class,” and his current starring role in the FOX serial killer drama “The Following.”
The lecture was free and open to the public, drawing hundreds of non-student fans to the campus who formed a line that stretched from the second floor of the Marshall Student Center down a staircase to the lobby. The student line stretched down another staircase, through the lobby, out the building's doors and across the large lawn to the student bookstore.
If there was any question that Bacon's star-power resonates with college-aged students 36 years after he first hit the big screen as a smarmy frat boy in “Animal House,” it was answered clearly by students like Shayna Milowe, who waited in line close to eight hours to get a seat up front.
“I'm a pretty massively huge Kevin Bacon fan. I love 'My Dog Skip' and I love him, we all do,” she said pointing to new friends she'd made in line. “Uh, hello, 'The Following.' He's relevant right now … I'm only one degree away and it's super exciting.”
Bacon also discussed the way celebrities, through minimal effort, can bring attention to small, grass roots causes they find worthy, simply by dropping in and tweeting about it.
He put that concept into action when he made a surprise appearance at a training class at the Nonprofit Leadership Center of Tampa Bay earlier in the afternoon.
It started like a normal training class at the Nonprofit Leadership Center of Tampa Bay as the instructor pointed out restrooms and asked the subdued attendees to silence their phones.
The teacher announced a special guest and out strolled a man instantly recognizable from his nearly 70 other films and television roles .
“Hi, “I'm your teacher for the day ... I'm here to talk to you about new donor acquisition and retention,” Kevin Bacon deadpanned to the stunned group of about a dozen women and one man.
The shocked class let out a shriek that slowly built to shocked laughter.
“I'm Kevin, by the way, nice to meet you,” said the actor, dressed in a black leather jacket, black shirt and black jeans.
Bacon, stopped in to surprise the class of staffers from various Tampa-area non-profit organizations.
It was one in a series of meetings leading up to Give Day Tampa Bay, a 24-hour online fundraising competition sponsored by The Community Foundation of Tampa Bay and the Florida Next Foundation.
“I was coming down to Tampa and I caught wind of what you were doing here,” said Bacon, who supports philanthropic efforts through his sixdegrees.org charity.
“One of the things we're doing is encouraging celebrities to reach out ... If nothing else just to say, 'Thank you, keep up the good work,'“ Bacon said, before posing for a selfie with the entire class.
Bacon is contributing to Give Day Tampa Bay and participating in the Bring Home the Bacon contest through the event, giving donors a chance to win a personal message from the actor.
Despite the name, “I won't be going home with anyone,” Bacon said, laughing.