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Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

The school from ‘Footloose’ lobbied Kevin Bacon to visit. He delivered.

Kevin Bacon visits Payson High School, a filming location for the movie “Footloose,” on April 20.
By Omari Daniels Washington Post

In his mid-20s, Kevin Bacon walked through the halls of Payson High School in the 1984 film “Footloose.” Last month, Bacon, now 65, traversed those halls for the first time in 40 years and revisited his locker used in the film.

“I think it was unexpectedly profound in a weird kind of way,” Bacon said in a phone interview.

Bacon’s return to Payson High, in Payson, Utah, was the culmination of a campaign to bring him back to the school before it is torn down next year.

Much of the film, which celebrated its 40th anniversary in February, was shot at the school. Residents and students take pride in the film, and Bacon still has fond memories of the movie.

Those memories came rushing back as a crowd greeted Bacon when he stepped onto an outdoor stage at Payson High on April 20, the day of the school’s spring prom.

“You were all just tireless, unrelenting in your desire to have me return and you talked me into it,” Bacon told the crowd. “It’s amazing, the power that this movie has to bring people together.”

The school’s campaign for Bacon’s return included re-creations of the film’s opening dance in TikTok posts last year, a “Footloose”-themed musical in November and fundraisers for Bacon’s nonprofit group,

In May 2025, the school will move into a new campus, which is under construction, and demolition of the current building will begin the next month. A few valued items, such as Bacon’s locker, will move to the new location.

‘All of our dreams

came true’

Though Payson students, including student body president Rubie Raff, had long lobbied for Bacon to return – and, if possible, attend the spring prom – his visit still took them by surprise.

“It was surreal,” Raff, 18, said. “As soon as he started walking onstage and they played the ‘Footloose’ song, I started crying. I was so happy that this finally happened and all of our dreams came true in that moment. It was indescribable.”

Jenny Staheli, a Payson English teacher and student council adviser, said the school presented Bacon with two letterman jackets, with his name and the SixDegrees logo on the front and “Footloose 1984” on the back. One was for Bacon to keep; the other, which Bacon signed, will be placed in a display with the locker once the new school is built.

Staheli said a highlight of the visit was when Bacon signed her husband’s LaserDisc copy of the 1992 film “Singles,” which stars Bacon’s wife, Kyra Sedgwick.

“He saw something in this campaign and the work that these kids put in that was worthwhile,” Staheli, 50, said. “Acknowledging that and taking time out of his schedule to visit us speaks to his character. Watching these kids accomplish this is the dream of every teacher.”

Raff said Bacon told her and other student council members that he admired their commitment, particularly their work with his nonprofit, which distributes kits to low-income people that include toiletries, socks and nonperishable goods.

“This idea was originally just to get Kevin Bacon here,” Raff said, “but it turned into something much bigger by impacting other people’s lives.”

Staheli and the student council learned in January that Bacon would be coming. They kept the news a secret as Staheli worked with Bacon’s representatives to plan a grand announcement.

Payson Principal Jesse Sorenson announced on the school’s Instagram account that 600 people needed to gather in the school’s gym at 5 a.m. on March 22. Ultimately, Staheli said, around 1,300 people came, including community members.

Bacon, who was in Atlanta at the time filming the upcoming TV series “The Bondsman,” appeared via live video.

“The movie and Payson High School was a big part of my life and I’ve been amazed at the work that all of you have been putting into this with the musical and the flash mobs and the re-creations,” Bacon told the crowd. “It hasn’t gone unnoticed by me.”

Bacon called the school’s work with “inspirational” and, after a pause, delivered the news that students hoped to hear: “I’m gonna come. I gotta come.”

The gym erupted in cheers.

Nick Dansie, Payson’s senior class president, said it was rewarding to know that Bacon followed the campaign’s work that paid off in his visit.

“We’d been up so early and the day just lasted forever,” Dansie, 19, said. “It just felt like a party day after that. Everybody wanted to be a part of the prom of the year.”

Bacon said he was “tickled” by the reaction and called the students who gave him a tour “inspiring and passionate.”

“The fact that people maybe two generations later appreciate the movie and find something they can relate to is really staggering,” Bacon said. “There was a kid who said, ‘My grandfather was here when you were doing the movie!’ I was like ‘Whoa, your grandfather?’ ”

‘It seemed impossible’

In the film, Bacon plays Chicago teenager Ren McCormack, who moves to the fictional town of Bomont, set in Payson, about an hour south of Salt Lake City. Many residents look down on dancing, and the youth challenge the town’s strict morals. The film culminates in a prom that Ren puts together for the high school students.

Bacon didn’t attend this year’s prom, but he visited earlier in the day, and he also shared a video message that was played during the prom. “I want you all to have a great time, and most importantly, be good to each other,” he told the students. “And don’t forget to cut loose.” The DJ then played the film’s final dance number as students did the dance from the film’s climactic scene.

Student say they’ll remember Bacon’s visit long after graduating.

“It’s something we’ll tell our kids in 20 or 50 years from now,” Dansie said. “Being able to say we got Kevin Bacon to come back is pretty cool.”

Raff called the campaign’s work a “gamechanger” for the school and said it instilled in students the confidence that they can accomplish something big.

“I was so proud that we finally pulled it off,” Raff said. “There was a lot of relief. Even though it seemed impossible, it came together in the best way. It made everything worthwhile.”