The beloved feline star of the popular meme has died age eight. But does this really mean the end?
Tonight he’s jamming with Kurt and Jimi. Keyboard Cat, the internet meme that bookended a thousand pratfalls, is dead.
The cat’s owner, Charlie Schmidt, posted the news on Keyboard Cat’s Facebook page, with its 820,000 followers.
Bento was rescued from a shelter in 2010 by her owner Charlie Schmidtt… and they had been making beautiful music together ever since! Bento is best known for her role as the current the piano-playing Keyboard Cat, an internet phemonmenon originated by Fatso – another of Schmidtt’s former best paw pal and artistic inspirations.
Seven years after being adopted, Bento was rocking out: with over 125K followers on YouTube, she had created a variety of viral musical compositions and remixes and has used her fame to help give back to the community by appearing in promotional videos to raise awareness for the Shelter Pet Project.
Only, that isn’t quite the story. Schmidt’s original clip of a musical cat – the one you’re most likely to have seen – was shot in 1984. Hence the grainy VHS quality, which made the vaporwave-obsessed internet of 2009 fall in love with it. The cat in that video was called Fatso. He died in 1987.
The recently deceased Bento, born in April 2009, just as the Keyboard Cat phenomenon was hitting its peak, was already a remix. It seems that Keyboard Cats can spontaneously regenerate whenever a few million dollars are dangled in front of them.
Schmidt used Bento to make a second Keyboard Cat video, plus any number of side adventures: a parody of Miley Cyrus’s Wrecking Ball, an ad for Wonderful Pistachios, all the way up to a spoof on Banksy’s Exit Through The Pet Shop.
You can hardly blame Schmidt for needing a physical product. Grumpy Cat is reputed to have a net worth of $100m. Within days of the first post to a Reddit thread, Grumpy Cat’s Red Lobster waitress owner was able to quit her job and go full-time. She shares a manager with Keyboard Cat, and with fellow celebrity felis catus, Lil Bub, and with animated cat meme Nyan Cat. Lil Bub generates enough that owner Mike Bridavsky can give away $200,000 a year to animal charities.
The internet cat-industrial complex is vast. Cat food company Friskies flew Grumpy Cat, real name Tardar Sauce, first class, to South by Southwest. They paid for a chauffeur, a personal assistant, and unlimited food. At a conference with Al Gore and Elon Musk, she was the star. The 2013 documentary Lil Bub and Friendz began when the makers witnessed 10,000 people turn out to the Internet Cat Video Film Festival.
How do you make a smash like Keyboard Cat? “You start with $850 of cat piano lessons,” Schmidt once quipped. Certainly, it helps if the cat has bodily issues. Keyboard Cat is notable among the truly great cats of the internet for being just a standard moggy, who had to work his way up on his boogie-woogie skills alone. Grumpy Cat has an underbite and feline dwarfism. Lil Bub a short lower jaw, toothlessness and osteopetrosis. Pop Tart Cat (Nyan Cat) has a pop tart for a body. Hipster Cat has a strange white moustache.
Bento’s generation is getting long in the tooth. Perhaps not for nothing has Maru’s owner adopted and begun showcasing a second cat in addition to the 10 year old. The death of a cat is a private tragedy. The death of an internet cat is an economic catastrophe.