Bacon, one of six children, was born and raised in a close-knit family in Philadelphia. His mother, Ruth Hilda (née Holmes; 1916–1991), taught at an elementary school and was a liberal activist, while his father, Edmund Norwood Bacon (May 2, 1910 – October 14, 2005), was a well-respected architect and a prominent Philadelphian who had been Executive Director of the Philadelphia City Planning Commission for many years.
Bolstered by the attention garnered by his performance in Diner, Bacon starred in the box-office smash Footloose (1984). Richard Corliss of TIME likened Footloose to the James Dean classic Rebel Without a Cause and the old Mickey Rooney/Judy Garland musicals, commenting that the film includes "motifs on book burning, mid-life crisis, AWOL parents, fatal car crashes, drug enforcement, and Bible Belt vigilantism." To prepare for the role, Bacon enrolled at a high school as a transfer student named "Ren McCormick" and studied teenagers before leaving in the middle of the day. Bacon earned strong reviews for Footloose, and he appeared on the cover of People magazine soon after its release.
Bacon's critical and box office success led to a period of typecasting in roles similar to the two he portrayed in Diner and Footloose, and he had difficulty shaking this on-screen image. For the next several years he chose films that cast him against either type and experienced, by his own estimation, a career slump.
In 1990, Bacon had two successful roles. He played a character who saved his town from under-the-earth "graboid" monsters in the comedy/horror film Tremors, and he portrayed an earnest medical student experimenting with death in Joel Schumacher's Flatliners.
In Bacon's next project he starred opposite Elizabeth Perkins in He Said, She Said. Despite lukewarm reviews and low audience turnout, He Said, She Said was illuminating for Bacon. Required to play a character with sexist attitudes, he admitted that the role was not that large a stretch for him.
By 1991, Bacon began to give up the idea of playing leading men in big-budget films and to remake himself as a character actor. "The only way I was going to be able to work on 'A' projects with really 'A' directors was if I wasn't the guy who was starring", he confided to The New York Times writer Trip Gabriel. "You can't afford to set up a $40 million movie if you don't have your star."
He performed that year as gay prostitute Willie O'Keefe in Oliver Stone's JFK and went on to play a prosecuting attorney in the military courtroom drama A Few Good Men. Later that year he returned to the theater to play in Spike Heels, directed by Michael Greif.
In 1994, Bacon earned a Golden Globe nomination for his role in The River Wild, opposite Meryl Streep. He described the film to Chase in Cosmopolitan as a "grueling shoot", in which "every one of us fell out of the boat at one point or another and had to be saved".
Bacon was again acclaimed for a dark starring role playing an offending pedophile on parole in The Woodsman (2004), for which he was nominated for best actor and recrived the Independent Spirit Award.
From 2012, Bacon has appeared in a major advertising campaign for the EE mobile network in the United Kingdom, based on the Six Degrees concept and his various film roles. In 2015, Kevin Bacon became a commercial spokesperson for the U.S. egg industry.
Bacon has been married to actress Kyra Sedgwick since September 4, 1988; they met on the set of the PBS version of Lanford Wilson's play Lemon Sky. He has said: "The time I was hitting what I considered to be bottom was also the time I met my wife, our kids were born, good things were happening. And I was able to keep supporting myself; that always gave me strength." Bacon and Sedgwick have starred together in Pyrates,Murder in the First, The Woodsman, and Loverboy.
Bacon and Sedgwick learned in 2011, via their appearance on the PBS TV show Finding Your Roots with Henry Louis Gates, that they are 10th cousins, once removed. They also appeared in a video promoting the "Bill of Reproductive Rights," supporting among other things a woman's right to choose and access to birth control.
Bacon is the subject of the trivia game titled Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon, based on the idea that, due to his prolific screen career covering a diverse range of genres, any Hollywood actor can be linked to another in a handful of steps based on their association with Bacon. The name of the game derives from the idea of six degrees of separation. Though he was initially dismayed by the game, the meme stuck, and Bacon eventually embraced it, forming the charitable initiative SixDegrees.org, a social networking site intended to link people and charities to each other.
The measure of proximity to Bacon has been mathematically formalized as the Bacon Index and can be referenced at websites including Oracle Of Bacon, which is in turn based upon Internet Movie Database data. Google even added a feature to their search engine, whereby searching for an actor's name followed by the words "Bacon Number" will show the ways in which that actor is connected to Kevin Bacon.
A similar measurement exists in the mathematics community, where one measures how far one is removed from co-writing a mathematical paper with the famous mathematician Paul Erdős. This is done by means of the Erdős number, which is 0 for Paul Erdős himself, 1 for someone who co-wrote an article with him, 2 for someone who co-wrote with someone who co-wrote with him, etc. People have combined the Bacon Index and the Erdős number to form the Erdős–Bacon number, which is the sum of the two.
^"I think there is a puritanical wind that is blowing. I have never seen such a lack of separation between church and state in America. I don't believe in God, but if I did I would say that sex is a God-given right." Wendy Ide, "The Outsider Wants In", The Times (London), December 1, 2005.