It’s nearly impossible to go online these days and not come across videos of cats swinging from ceiling fans or being scared by cucumbers. Cats litter Facebook and Snapchat, and appear on social media accounts boasting hundreds of thousands of followers. The most successful Internet cat entrepreneurs can make tens of thousands of dollars each year from advertising and merchandising.
For those who watch these videos, however, it’s not about the money. For some, it’s about that warm and fuzzy vibe that makes feel them “more positive” about life than they otherwise might, according to one academic study.
One of best-loved of these celebrity cats was Bento, an affable orange tabby more commonly known by his Internet moniker Keyboard Cat.
Bento lovers are now in mourning, however. He succumbed to liver cancer on March 8, his owner Charlie Schmidt told The Washington Post. Fans were alerted to his death when Schmidt, a Spokane, Wash.-based artist, posted a touching tribute to YouTube on Friday.
It’s important to note that Bento is the second Keyboard Cat and not the star of the original 2007 YouTube video, which went viral in 2009 and launched a synth-keyboard-playing feline into Internet stardom, the Spokesman-Review reported.
The first Keyboard Cat video — shot on VHS in 1984 then later digitized — features the musical talents of Schmidt’s other cat, Fatso, who died more than 20 years ago.
When Schmidt filmed the original video on a winter day long before YouTube even existed, he had no idea it would go viral and become a widely circulated meme, used to document Internet fails, or embarrassing moments.
“I wasn’t aiming for anything except relieving my boredom,” he said in a phone interview Monday.
In fact, Schmidt said the inspiration for the video came from things he found lying around his house, which just happened to be his cat, a keyboard and an infant T-shirt from JC Penny. (Having no baby, he still can’t explain why he had an infant shirt at home. In any case, it’s now framed and hanging in his office.)
So he was surprised when a video he describes as “low-resolution, poorly produced, badly framed [and] improvised,” became an overnight Internet sensation. The original video has since amassed more than 50 million views.
The meteoric rise of Fatso as the first Keyboard Cat inspired him to see whether he could create more videos with another cat and “keep the spirit of Fatso alive.”
Adopted from a shelter in 2010, Schmidt said Bento, who bears a striking resemblance to his predecessor, shouldered the enormous responsibility of Internet fame without blinking an eye.
Three days after his adoption, Schmidt got out the keyboard and camera, and Bento became the star of “Keyboard Cat REINCARNATED!,” the first of many videos in which Bento was the leading cat.
“Trust me, not every cat in the world can do this, or everybody would be and there would be a million Keyboard Cats,” Schmidt said, adding that Bento craved the attention.
Aside from YouTube, Bento has also appeared in a Wonderful Pistachios commercial and was featured in a campaign to encourage pet adoption from shelters. Schmidt also runs a merchandise store stocked with paraphernalia ranging from branded mugs to an animatronic stuffed toy.
The loss of such a prolific Internet celebrity has sent people around the world into a tailspin.
Since the tribute video was posted, Schmidt said Keyboard Cat’s social media channels and his own personal email have been inundated with condolence messages from around the world.
“I got an email today from people in South Africa who were asking me, ‘What do I do with my 6-year-old, he won’t stop crying,’ ” he said.
Many also took to Twitter to express their sorrow, resulting in their reactions being curated into a trending moment Monday.
Users remembered Keyboard Cat, eulogizing him as a “hero” and a “legend.” Myriad tweets included GIFs or photos showing the cat play the keyboard, or as one user described it, “tickle the ivories with his gifted kitty paws.”
Even fellow Internet-famous cats expressed sympathies. “Rest in Peace Keyboard Cat,” said a Twitter post from the Grumpy Cat account.
Although the Internet is grieving the loss of a treasured meme, Schmidt said he lost a piece of himself.
“If I was on the computer, he was on the computer. If I was in the shower, he’d be on the bath mat,” he said. “It’s just like a legend, ‘Bento will not be without Charlie.’ ”
Bedtime, he said, is when he misses Bento the most.
“I’d just get in, and he would snuggle up,” Schmidt said. “He would come really close and then put his paw on your arm. That was a good way to end a day.”
While he would prefer to just make a cup of soup, watch TV and process Bento’s death, Schmidt said he knows he has a responsibility to Keyboard Cat’s fans to carry on Bento’s legacy.
But he has not yet decided if that means starting the search for a Keyboard Cat 3.0.
“I’m not doing any dating right now with cats, but it can happen,” he said.
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