The Six Degrees: Kevin Bacon at TEDxMidwest (Full Transcript)

It just had this incredible hang time. People would start to come up to me on the subway and literally go, “Zero! Zero! Zero! Zero!” The Onion had a headline that said, “Kevin Bacon connected to Osama Bin Laden in six steps or less.” There were articles about politics, and sports, and all kinds of stuff: science, mathematics. A few years down the line, the planes fried flied into the World Trade Center, and I go to pick up my little girl, way too early, and I see the fear in her eyes. We go to war, and everywhere I look, man, it’s like turmoil, and sickness, and a family member is diagnosed with cancer, another friend dies of addiction. And I just feel completely overwhelmed, and I say to myself, “You have to do more, you have to figure out a way to do more, giving some money over here, voting over here, showing up at things, doing PSAs, whatever.”

I open up the refrigerator, and there’s Paul Newman; and he’s staring at me from a jar of tomato sauce. And I think to myself, “That’s amazing. I love Paul Newman, I love him as an actor, but I love what he did with his time, his time on this planet. He liked to make salad dressing, and he liked to make tomato sauce, and 300 million dollars later, it’s still this juggernaut for charity.” And I thought, “What do I – do I have any? I’m not Paul Newman, but do I have anything that is branded with me?” And somehow, the Footloose Foundation just didn’t feel right. And then I said, “Well, wait a second, wait a second – six degrees.”

So I ran to the computer, and I typed in ‘sixdegrees.com’  and it’s a real estate website. Then I went, “No, that’s not it, I need ‘sixdegrees.org'” I go, and it’s available; If you want it just call these guys. I was, “Wow, I don’t know how to do it. What do I have to do to get a website?” So I call my buddy Willie who was a little better at this, he goes in, access my broker, 3,500 dollars later, I own sixdegrees.org. I’ve no idea what to do with it. I start talking to my friends and my family; I’m a complete neophyte in this world of philanthropy, I really don’t know what I’m doing.

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I thought that I wanted to do something that showed the connectivity, I knew that I wanted to do some kind of good. It amazes me that people think of a do-gooder as an insult, that always blows my mind. I knew that I wanted to raise money, I knew that this couldn’t be my main job because I’m a very busy guy so I was talking to somebody at the charity thing that I was doing, and he said, “You should talk to this guy who knows another guy; you should check out this thing called ‘Network for Good.'” I go on to Network for Good, and I realize, much to my chagrin, that they are doing exactly what it was that I wanted to do. And of course, I was so naive to think that I was having some great, new idea.

I thought I was going to be some kind of do-gooder, Internet star, or something like that. This is the digital age; and ideas are just bursting like fireworks on the 4th of July. But I figured that I would call this guy, Bill Strathmann from Network for Good and just reach out to him and see if he could help me. Much to my surprise, they were actually interested in partnering. He saw me more as an opportunity than as some kind of competition.

And I come from the dog-eat-dog world of show business, man, it’s like every man for himself, getting parts or movies, and being number one and all that stuff. But in philanthropy, it just seems to be a little bit more partnering, and of course, that’s the way it should be. So we started to shape this idea of what sixdegrees.org could be. We decided that we really wanted to make it celebrity-based.

And then I thought about uggs, those goofy boots. So actresses don’t like to wear their shoes from the trailer to the set. I love actresses – I’m married to one – but sometimes, they are a little delicate. They don’t want to get their toes wet or slip on the heels so the costumers give them these silly boots to wear. They walk from the trailer to the set, the paparazzi are there, – click, click, click!- they take the pictures, goes in the magazines, women all over the world start dressing like Eskimos.

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So I thought, “Is there a way to apply that to charity? If people are going to buy something because a star uses it, what about donating to something that a star cares about? So we decided to become the celebrity face of Network for Good. Around that time, we were going to Sundance, and I figured that’s going to be the perfect place to try to sign up famous people for our site. We go out there, we bring some T-shirts, and some buttons, and we set up a booth. I walk up to all these celebrities; everyone is very, very happy.

Here is the thing: being famous is great. I mean, I wouldn’t trade it for the world. All day long, people are nice to me for absolutely no reason. But usually, people want something from you. So I wanted to not be the guy who was going to try to take something from these celebrities. Sure enough, you come up, “How are you doin’?”, hug-hug, kiss-kiss. “Listen, this is what I need from you: I need your picture, and I need to know what causes you support and I need you to sign this form.” And I can see that sometimes, it’s this subtle shift in people’s eyes because all of a sudden, I went from being a colleague to being the guy that wanted something. But that was cool; sometimes, they’d say, “Well, you have to talk to my assistant.” I was totally great with that.

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