Lil Bub rose to stardom in the Golden Age of the Internet Cat. At the beginning of this decade, “lolcats”—humorous images of cats usually subtitled in broken English—dominated the blog I Can Haz Cheezburger. The 8-bit animated Nyan Cat—which had the body of a Pop-Tart—left a catchy dance song stuck in viewer’s heads. Cartoon favorite Pusheen started life as a web comic. Then came the real-life personalities: Grumpy Cat, Maru, Colonel Meow, and countless other pets who graced blog pages, YouTube videos, and Instagram accounts .
Born in 2011, Bub was the runt of a feral-cat litter discovered in a tool shed by a friend of owner Mike Bridavsky, who by all accounts fell in love with the cat the second he picked her up and said, “Hey, Bub.” Tiny and underweight, a vet gave her six months to live. Bub not only survived, she thrived.
Bridavsky, who owns Bloomington’s Russian Recording studio, quietly started a Tumblr blog for his curious-looking kitten, who, with bulging green eyes, perky little ears, dwarfism that gave her a tiny body and stumpy legs, and a tongue that permanently hung out thanks to an overbite and lack of teeth, was cute as can be and positively destined for viral internet fame. When a photo of her ended up on the front page of Reddit, a viral star was born. Then came the blogs: Jezebel, Buzzfeed, The Huffington Post. This magazine was the first Indiana news outlet to tell her story back in July 2012. Two and a half weeks later, she charmed the nation on Good Morning America.
From there, Bub became a household name. She headlined conventions and film festivals. Her own VICE-produced documentary, Lil BUB and Friendz, debuted in 2013 at the Tribeca Film Festival and won the online viewer’s choice award for Best Feature Film. She had a book—Lil BUB’s Lil Book: The Extraordinary Life of the Most Amazing Cat on the Planet—appeared in Spin magazine and on daytime shows such as Today and The View. She even had her own talk show where she “interviewed” Whoopi Goldberg and hosted a Thanksgiving special with the Bloomington band Murder by Death. Her Animal Planet special, Lil BUB’s Special Special, featured a music video with Andrew W.K. A Bub weather app could tell you the day’s forecast. And all along, she grew her fan base—currently, more than 3 million Facebook fans, 2.4 million Instagram followers, 800,000 Twitter followers, and 340,000 YouTube subscribers.
Bridavsky attributes this fame with saving her life—when she was diagnosed with osteopetrosis, a disease that caused her bones to grow denser and severely limited her mobility, online fans pointed Bridavsky in the direction of a treatment called Assisi Loop, an electromagnetic pulse device that helped Bub regain her mobility. “My theory is that Bub made herself famous,” Bridavsky said in a 2015 Indianapolis Monthly profile. “That was her survival strategy because she’s not able to survive in the wild. She could only survive in the age of the Internet.”
If Grumpy Cat was the chart-topping pop star of internet cats, Lil Bub was the quirky indie rocker. In the lore Bridavsky created, she was an alien who landed on Earth, hailing from the far-off planet of Bub Ub Bub. While Grumpy Cat scowled and became the face of everyday annoyances, similar to how the Hoosier-created Garfield bemoans Mondays, Bub’s eternal tongue-out grin promoted instant happiness and joy. But both dwarf felines brought plenty of joy to their fans—the two even met face-to-face at the Internet Cat Video Film Festival, a moment that probably should have crashed the entire web. Ben Lashes, who later became Grumpy’s manager, had once approached Bridavsky about making Bub a client, but Bridavsky declined. Bub was always a family affair. He met his wife, Stacy, while with Bub at the first Internet Cat Video Film Festival. Many of his friends are collaborators in Bub’s online shop, where Bridavsky sells T-shirts, plush dolls, sweaters, and art prints of his cat. A portion of the shop’s proceeds go toward Bub’s own ASPCA fund, which is designed specifically to help other animals with birth defects, deformities, and any other conditions which require extra care. Bridavsky says that through Bub, more than $700,000 has been raised to help animals in need.
As Bub aged, she battled a “persistent and aggressive bone infection” that caused a large mass of bone to grow on her jaw, giving her a noticeable lump on her cheek. Bridavsky re-assured fans on Instagram in October that Bub was okay, still eating normally, and “living her life full of positivity and love.” But at eight years old, she was getting old. Bridavsky noted that her appearance at Catsbury Park Cat Convention later that month would be among her last. She continued taking antibiotics to treat the bone infection and underwent a CT scan just before Thanksgiving.
On December 1, Bridavsky wrote in a note to Bub’s fans, the cat died peacefully in her sleep. He wrote that even with her health issues, her death was unexpected, but said, “I truly believe that she willingly made the decision to leave her failing body so that our family would not have to make that difficult decision ourselves.”
As the internet-famous pets of the early 2010s age, fans are having to say goodbye, just as they would to their own pets. Lil Bub’s death follows Grumpy Cat, who died in May, and Keyboard Cat, who died last year. And while not a feline, Boo the Pomeranian, a dog whose stardom rivaled Grumpy Cat’s, died in January. Their deaths at the end of the decade also mark the end of an era—while animals are still Instagram influencers and command the attention of thousands, few become marketing machines that the pets of the early 2010s did. More popular is the idea of pets—such as the viral Twitter account Thoughts of Dog, which transcribes the inner monologue of the world’s purest, most innocent canine. Or Gideon Kidd’s I’ve Pet That Dog, in which the tween travels the country to literally pet dogs. Current internet culture tends to celebrate pets as a whole rather than the few that stand out as different.
But Bub’s difference was her strength. Her story was one of perseverance. The space alien kitty emphasized how okay it was to be different. She spoke eloquently, rather than in meme speak, and stressed a message of acceptance and positivity. “GOOD JOB, BUB,” is how Bridavsky ended many of her posts.
Good job, indeed. Rest easy, Bub.