A few years ago actress Kyra Sedgwick, long-time wife of movie star Kevin Bacon, received some new information about her marriage. She and her spouse were, it transpired, actually related. And when Sedgwick publicly revealed what she thought about this development, it was also quite surprising.
If you’re familiar with Bacon, you’ve probably also heard of the game Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon. It’s based on the theory that nobody is ever more than six degrees of separation away from another person. The game involves naming another celebrity and finding out how close they are to Bacon.
For example, Angelina Jolie has a “Bacon number” of two. She was in the movie Wanted with James McAvoy, and McAvoy was in X-Men: First Class with Bacon. But the more obscure a celebrity you pick, the harder the game is meant to get. There are whole websites devoted to finding Bacon numbers.
At first Bacon hated the game, but he came around. In March 2014 he said at the South by Southwest Interactive festival, “I was horrified by it. I thought it was a giant joke at my expense. I appreciate it now, but I was very resistant to it [at first.]” Now Bacon even has a charity organization website named SixDegrees.org.
Bacon added, “Whether it’s my age or my misspent youth, sometimes I forget whether I’ve worked with somebody or not. I’ll look at the call sheet, check the name, and then I’ll check their Bacon number. That way I can go on the set and say, ‘Good to see you,’ or ‘Good to see you again.’”
However, it’s Sedgwick who has the most impressive Bacon number of them all. She’s married to him, of course, and she’s a distant relative. The story first surfaced in July 2011, when Sedgwick appeared on the Late Show With David Letterman. She revealed that she had been filming with Bacon for the PBS genealogy show Finding Your Roots.
Sedgwick told Letterman, “You know, it’s amazing, because you learn so much about your family. “[Show creator Henry Louis Gates] went 200 years back on my mother’s side and 200 years back on my father’s side. And I just found out things I didn’t know at all.” Many of these involved cousins.
The actress explained to Letterman that she had many famous people dotted around her family tree. These included Richard Nixon, Jimmy Carter and Marilyn Monroe. Then Letterman announced to everyone, “You’re related to your husband!” Sedgwick confirmed, “Tenth cousins once removed. It was a little upsetting, I’m not going to lie.”
Letterman didn’t seem to completely believe all of it could possibly be true, though. The host told Sedgwick, “I’m very skeptical of this. I just… I don’t know. I would go on there, and I bet you I’m related to those same people.” Sedgwick answered, “But it was on PBS! You have to believe PBS.”
Bacon and Sedgwick’s episode of Finding Your Roots aired in April 2012 and Gates discussed it with the celebrity and entertainment site WENN. Talking about the couple, he said, “It turns out they share two things. They both are descendants from people who owned slaves, and they are indeed distant cousins.”
Gates also told WENN, “We don’t have any prior agreements with anyone [over what could be disclosed], and we just did the stories. We have a team of genealogists. We have different genealogists for different people — some are more expert on African-Americans, some on Jewish people, some on Ashkenazi-Jewish people, some on Asian people. But whatever we find, we try to boil it down to three or four narrative arcs.”
Right at the beginning of the show Sedgwick told Gates, “My biggest fear is we’re [Sedgwick and Bacon] cousins.” But there were other things to find out before the show got to that point. Gates informed Bacon, “Edward I, King of England, is your 22nd great-grandfather,” and Bacon was — understandably — amazed.
Explaining how the show was created, Gates said, “We’ve used every tool available. Genealogists helped stitch together the past using the paper trail the Bacons’ ancestors left, while geneticists utilized latest advances in DNA analysis to reveal secrets thousands of years old.” There were some other surprises in store as well.
Gates suggested to Bacon, “Let’s see who you are related to among your contemporaries. How about Hollywood? You and Brad Pitt are 13th cousins twice removed.” Bacon was fairly nonplussed, but was more impressed to hear he was also distantly related to Barack Obama. He said, “No kidding! I knew I wasn’t getting enough respect!”
Then Sedgwick was shown pictures of her own ancestors, and the revelation was made. Gates handed her a picture of her husband from the 1980s, and said, “Met that guy before? He’s your ninth cousin once removed, his name is Kevin Bacon.” Sedgwick reacted with several emotions all at once.
Sedgwick swore and then cried, “See? I knew it! I’m having a hot flash.” Gates asked her not to tell her husband until he himself had a chance to tell him in front of the cameras, but Sedgwick ended up informing him anyway. After all, keeping a secret like that from your spouse is quite a big ask.
When Gates told Bacon the news, he said, “Ah, I knew this — she told me! She cheated! But this is why we’re still married — you can never tell her to not tell me something.” But everything was still absolutely fine between the pair. Sedgwick said, “As long as we’re not first cousins, it’s fine.”
In fact, there are lots of celebrities who are married to distant relatives. Queen Elizabeth II and her husband Prince Philip are actually third cousins via the monarch’s great-great-grandmother Queen Victoria. And they would have known before they were wed. For many years it was actually quite common for royals to marry cousins.
Queen Victoria herself was married to her first cousin — a marriage that would be rather more contentious these days, as Sedgwick noted on the show. Victoria wed Prince Albert, the son of her maternal uncle, Ernest I, in 1840 and they remained passionately in love until his death. They even produced nine children.
When the news broke that Bacon was indeed distantly related to his wife, many media outlets immediately made jokes about Six Degrees of Kevin Bacon. And the game did actually come up on Finding Your Roots as well. The actor recalls, “I wasn’t in the headspace to take it as flattery.”
Bacon thought the point of the game was, “Can you believe that this loser can be connected to one of the great actors in history, you know, like Olivier or something like that in Six Degrees? So, I didn’t look at it as a badge of honor.” But after learning that wasn’t the intention his feelings changed.
In Finding Your Roots Bacon says, “It’s a beautiful concept that we are connected. That we all, essentially, kind of climbed out of the same swamp. It’s fun to be at the forefront of that idea.” And with the new revelation regarding his wife and marriage he was arguably at the forefront of it again.
Yet the Bacon-Sedgwick marriage has always been a strong one. They actually met for the first time as kids, with the 12-year-old Sedgwick nursing a crush on the 19-year-old Bacon. When they encountered each other again as adults, the childish infatuation was gone and Sedgwick was not impressed.
Bacon would sometimes ask Sedgwick — and all her co-stars out — but she would refuse. In 2012 she told Conan O’Brien, “The whole cast would say yes except for me. And later on he told me that the only person he wanted to say yes was me and I never said yes and he was always stuck with the check, poor guy.”
But Bacon got the girl in the end. As Sedgwick explained to Good Housekeeping magazine in 2010, “I had no great role models in terms of healthy marriages, but I knew in my heart and soul that he was the right person. It was an unquestionable truth of mine. I’ve never had anything like that before or after.”
Things moved quickly for the couple. In 2008 Sedgwick told Redbook magazine, “If someone had told me that at 22 I was going to meet the man I was going to marry and at 23 I would marry him and have a child, I would have told them they were out of their mind.” The couple ended up having two children, Travis Bacon, who was born in 1989, while his sister Sosie arrived three years later.
The couple would fight occasionally, as all couples do, but they stuck it out. Sedgwick told Redbook, “We always knew that we were each other’s ‘one.’ Both of us knew this was forever and we were going to work it out no matter what happens, so when we fight, it’s not so scary. You can’t be honest with someone if you think that they are going to leave.”
Sedgwick also told Redbook, “Everyone has marital struggles — I don’t buy the ‘Oh, it’s so hard, actors being married.’ Man, marriage is hard for everyone. So when we’re on the red carpet and we get the ‘How do you guys do it? No one can stay together,’ I get really irritated. I don’t think our relationship is more or less difficult; I just think you both make the commitment and you make it work.”
And they made it work after finding out they were distant relatives as well. The revelation seems to have had very little impact on them. In August 2017, several years after the episode of Finding Your Roots aired, Sedgwick was asked about it during a panel of the Television Critics Association’s summer press tour.
The actress had a very casual attitude to her newfound connection to her husband. Sedgwick said, “I figured I was going to be related to Kevin Bacon – I mean, most white people are related, ultimately.” And then she went on, “I wasn’t surprised, honestly. Frankly, I figured that was part of the reason that they wanted to do both of us. I had to act surprised.”
Some people appeared to be shocked by the revelation. The celebrity gossip blog Perez Hilton wrote at the time, “For us, that may have been a dealbreaker. It certainly would have been a mindblower. But for the star of Ten Days In The Valley, it was just another example of white people problems. HUH??!”
Others were nonplussed, though. When the Bacon and Sedgwick story was published on another celebrity gossip blog, Oh No They Didn’t, people reacted more casually. One person wrote, “This is a non-story…UNLESS they’re third cousins or closer. Any more distant than that and the blood relation is minimal to non-existent.”
Although Sedgwick said of her family discovery that she believed most white people were related, there’s a school of scientific thought which works on the assumption that all people everywhere are related. In August 2013, university DNA researchers Peter Ralph and Graham Coop published a study which claimed just this.
Ralph told the website Phys.org, “The fact that everyone has two parents means that the number of ancestors for each individual doubles every generation. By using basic mathematics, we can calculate that ten generations ago each individual had a thousand ancestors, and 20 generations ago they had a million and so on.”
The scientist went on, “But when we get to 40 generations ago, in the time of Charlemagne, we arrive at a trillion ancestors and that is a problem because we now have more ancestors than there were people. Thus one can deduce that a lot of those ancestors must be the same person.”
Regarding the concept of a family tree, Ralph said, “Pretty soon the branches start running into one another and it begins to resemble more of a web-like tapestry as distant cousins marry and share a set of distant grandparents. That means that although hardly anyone marries their cousin in Western Europe, many people are unwittingly marrying their 30th cousin.”
And, of course, Bacon and Sedgwick are just one example of this. Although they were more closely related than 30th cousins, there was no way they could have possibly known. However, it seems to have had very little impact on their close and loving relationship. The couple spoke to Glamour magazine in September 2019 about how they kept their marriage strong.
Sedgwick remembered the times they had to work on their marriage, saying, “I think the biggest fight we ever had was when I wanted to move back to Manhattan and he wanted to stay in Connecticut. That was a big one, and it lasted a long time. But we don’t hit below the belt. Neither of us has the constitution for that, and I mean that in a good way.”
The actress continued, “I think you just make your priorities and sometimes they put restrictions on you that hurt a little bit, and that’s okay. And we learned as we went what works and what doesn’t. There was a time in the ’90s that I did Heart and Souls, and he went off to Africa to do this movie and we had almost two months apart. We were like, Okay, that doesn’t work. Never again. But we learned from that misstep.”
As Bacon said, “We don’t start with ‘No.’ ‘No, you can’t do that.’ ‘You can’t go away.’ ‘You can’t do that job.’ It’s kind of the opposite. If something comes up, we mostly say, ‘This is our lives; we’ll make it work.’” And this appears to be precisely what they did when they discovered they were distant cousins.