A few years back, Kevin Bacon heard some college students had made up a game about him.
It was called ‘Six Degree of Kevin Bacon”.
It was a joke on the play “Six Degrees Of Separation” by John Guare.
The play was based on the premise that everybody on the planet is separated by, at most, six other people.
The President of the United States and a gondolier in Venice, just fill in the names.
With Kevin Bacon it was actors linked by movies.
Bacon found it depressing.
He said “The joke was that you could link the best actors in the world, Lawrence Olivier or Marlon Brando, to this lightweight in just a few names.”
He said it made him look like a joke.
He felt like his career was over.
And depressed, he opened the fridge to get a beer.
As he reached in he noticed a bottle of Newman’s Own Salad Dressing, with Paul Newman’s face laughing at him.
And a light bulb clicked on in his head.
He thought “Hey, what if I don’t take this seriously, what if I have fun with it?
Maybe I could do some good like Paul Newman.”
In 1982, Paul Newman had started giving his recipe for salad dressing as a present to his friends.
They liked it so much he began marketing it.
Pretty soon, the bottles with his grinning face on were in every supermarket across America.
The range grew like crazy: pasta sauce, salsa, marinades, frozen pizza, cereal, popcorn, pretzels, cookies, coffee, iced tea, lemonade, even wine.
Nearly 100 different food products.
And Paul Newman gave 100% of the profits to charity.
So far, over $370 million has gone to thousands of charities in fifty countries on five continents.
All funded from bottles with Paul Newman’s grinning face on the label.
All featuring the jokey company line “Fine Foods Since February”.
As Paul Newman said “It started as a joke and got out of hand”.
And Kevin Bacon thought about that.
He thought maybe being a joke isn’t such a bad thing after all.
Maybe being a joke can actually be a good thing.
And he went online and bought the rights to “sixdegrees.org”
He thought: if the joke is about how everyone’s connected let’s use the internet to connect everyone to movie stars and to charity.
And in 2007 he started his charitable website.
The Internet was the perfect place for a charity that was all about connectedness.
People could find their favourite celebrity and give to his or her favourite charity.
Then they’d get a badge with a picture of themselves next to that celebrity, plus the name of the charity.
Jeff Bridges, Nicole Kidman, Jon Bon Jovi, Robert Duvall, Tyra Banks, Kanye West, Jessica Simpson, have all signed up to help Kevin Bacon’s charity raise money.
In just five years, it’s raised over $5 million for various charities.
And one of the main benefactors has been Kevin Bacon.
He’s learned how much more powerful it is not to take yourself too seriously.