In a way, the deaths of Fatso and Bento mark two sides of cultural history: the first Keyboard Cat, whose original “feat” was captured with analog media and confined to a VHS tape, died without fanfare; the second Keyboard Cat, whose celebrity came as the result of sudden, random viral fame in the YouTube age, created national news when he died.
Gabe the Dog’s borks inspired YouTube remixes for years until his owner announced in 2017 that Gabe had died of heart problems.
Lil Bub’s death was trending on Twitter within minutes of the announcement as fans of the cat and friends of her owner, as well as other viral animal accounts wrote tributes.
Boo, the cute, smiling Pomeranian with 16 million followers on Facebook, died in January. He was 12.
Although famous animals predate the Internet, Lil Bub’s life and fame coincided with the online flourishing of the influencer pet, and her passing is part of a parallel phenomenon: widespread grief when those pets inevitably die.
Viral pets have become part of the social-media feeds of any animal lover with a social media account, and their deaths have mark significant disruptions even when they don’t rate obituaries in the mainstream news.
Grumpy Cat died in 2019, at 7 years old, after becoming the dour face of a feline empire of merch, media, and entertainment. Grumpy Cat “produced” a New York Times bestseller. Grumpy Cat did commercials and even starred in “Grumpy Cat’s Worst Christmas Ever.”
Boo, the dog’s owners wrote on Facebook at the time, never got over the death of his friend and fellow famous dog Buddy. “We think his heart literally broke when Buddy left us,” the post read. “He hung on and gave us over a year.”
But Lil Bub wasn’t just a cute meme; she was a mortal creature, and more fragile than most. The runt of her litter, Lil Bub had health problems all her life. Scientists sequenced her genome to uncover information about her “magical” appearance. She most recently had a bone infection. And on Monday, Bridavsky wrote to her fans with sad news: Lil Bub had died in her sleep. “We lost the purest, kindest and most magical living force on our planet,” he wrote. Bridavsky had been sharing updates on her bone condition over the past few weeks, but he admitted that he wasn’t expecting her to pass so suddenly.
Keyboard Cat, an orange tabby whose given name was Bento, died last year of liver cancer. Bento had become famous as a stand-in for his owner’s previous cat, Fatso, the keyboard-“playing” star of an old home movie that went viral on YouTube many years after Fatso himself had passed away.
Correction:An earlier version of this story misstated the year of Grumpy Cat’s death.
Happily, this decade has not seen the demise of all the beloved Internet pets. Despite many rumors to the contrary over the past few years, Kabosu, the shiba inu who became the face of the Doge meme, is alive and well, according to her Instagram.
The animal Internet of the 2000s was filled with amusing cat pictures. The Internet of the 2010s has been a place for cat and dog empires. Internet cat and dog cultures have their own online languages, media outlets and political controversies. Watching the lives of other people’s pets has become a part of the Internet experience, and now so has mourning their deaths.
It was a jarring death, even from afar. Lil Bub was the subject of a documentary, made celebrity appearances and was one of the most recognizable cats in the world. Just days ago, her social media accounts were promoting a Black Friday merch sale to her millions of followers.