The untold truth of Grumpy Cat

On May 14, 2019, the world lost a role model, a true patriot, and a meme goddess. Grumpy Cat died of complications from a urinary tract infection after more than a half decade of being adorable and teaching the whole world that it's okay to be in a bad mood.

You've seen so many Grumpy Cat memes, product endorsements, and, yes, films and videos starring the famously cantankerous kitty that it almost bordered on too much. For a while, you couldn't open a web browser or walk into a Target without being bombarded by Grumpy Cat products and images. But how much did you really know about Grumpy Cat? Who was she? Why was she so grumpy? And how exactly does a 5-pound cat end up more wealthy and famous than you'll ever be? Well here it is, at last, everything you ever wanted to know about the late, great Grumpy Cat.

Her name wasn't really "Grumpy"

Grumpy Cat's real name was "Tardar Sauce," and "Tard," for short, which frankly isn't much of an improvement on "Grumpy," at least not from a self-esteem perspective. Fortunately, Grumpy Cat was a cat, so self-esteem wasn't really a problem for her.

According to Business Insider, Grumpy Cat got her original moniker from owner Tabatha Bundesen's daughter Chrystal, whose mom had just made her try the condiment (at the time, the elder Bundesen was a waitress at Red Lobster). "She was like, 'Ew, no!' and I said 'Honey, you have to try it! It goes with fish!'" Bundesen told Mental Floss. "So it was fresh in her mind when the kitten was born."

Anyway, Chrystal evidently thought the kitten's orangeish-colored fur resembled tartar sauce (Red Lobster's tartar sauce has carrots in it, hence the orangeish-color). But after fame and fortune, Tardar Sauce's family mostly just called her by her popular name. "It's pretty much Grumpy all the time now," Bundesen said in 2013.

Shocker: She wasn't actually grumpy

Grumpy Cat's frowny face made her famous, but in case you don't actually know much about cat anatomy and the way felines express displeasure, the frowny face didn't literally mean she was grumpy. Cats tend to communicate unhappiness with body language and vocalizations, like growling or randomly biting or swatting you just when you think you're finally having a shared moment of affection. Grumpy Cat's frowny face was actually caused by an underbite plus a type of feline dwarfism, which was also responsible for her large eyes and small size. (She weighed less than 5 pounds.)

Grumpy Cat's demeanor didn't match her outward appearance, either. "She's very sweet and docile," Bundesen told USA Today. She was also playful — in a 2013 interview with Mental Floss, Bundesen said her behavior was pretty much in line with every other cat on the planet: "She's super frisky, especially between 3 and 6 a.m. — when you're trying to get your deepest sleep, she's wanting to play." Yeah, that sounds about right.

At first everyone thought she was Photoshopped

Grumpy Cat first arrived in the public's consciousness in September 2012, when Bundesen's brother posted a photo of her on Reddit, captioned "meet grumpy cat." The post went viral, notching a million views within 48 hours. Part of the furor had to do with people questioning the truth of the photo — according to People, a lot of viewers thought the image had been Photoshopped, and Bundesen ended up posting some follow-up video on YouTube to help counter the rumors. Even compared to that original photograph, the videos were extra-super adorable, which naturally led to the Internet losing its collective mind and Grumpy Cat becoming an overnight star.

Grumpy Cat was an obvious subject for memes, and it wasn't long before Grumpy Cat memes full of pessimistic messages of anti-hope were plastered all over the internet. And so, a star was born. An ill-tempered, disgruntled, petulant black hole of a star, but a star nonetheless.

Grumpy Cat's owner quit her job days after that first Reddit post

Before her pet became famous, Bundesen was struggling to make ends meet as a waitress. But all of that changed after Grumpy Cat's Reddit debut. "I was able to quit my job as a waitress within days of her first appearance on social media," she told the Telegraph in 2014. "And the phone simply hasn't stopped ringing since."

Grumpy Cat's Reddit fame eventually turned into Grumpy Cat Limited, which still sells Grumpy-themed apparel, calendars, keychains, pillows, and other stuff — even a line of perfume called "Kitten Fur." We're not sure what that smells like, exactly, but it's probably not the sort of thing you'd wear to a speed-dating session. Anyway, Bundesen's current career is basically full-time cat management, which might not have been her original dream job or anything, although it's definitely 100 percent the job most cats dream their owners will one day have.

Grumpy was not an only child

Not only was Grumpy Cat not an only child, but her brother has the same condition that she did, though her family says that he wasn't blessed with the same permanent frown his sister had. "He's black and white," Bundesen told Mental Floss. "But he does have dwarfism, so he's super short and cute, too. His face isn't as frowny as hers, but he does have an underbite."

Grumpy Cat's brother is called "Pokey," and he's gotten a little bit of air time, though not as much as his meme-phenomenon sister. That's probably because his face has less of the "I hate you" countenance and more of the typical "you are a peasant" countenance that pretty much every cat's face has. "Pokey doesn't hate you personally," BuzzFeed explained. "He just finds you to be vaguely contemptuous." Yep, that sounds like most cats. Sorry Pokey, you're just not that unusual. Cute, though.

Grumpy Cat had her own publicist and sometimes a bodyguard

Deep down inside, all cats wish for their own personal chef, a 24-hour petting brigade, an executioner, and a publicist. We don't know if Grumpy Cat had any of the former, but she definitely had the latter. In fact her publicist is the one who announced her passing on Twitter in May 2019 with the words, "Some days are grumpier than others," which on the one hand is in keeping with her famously grumpy spirit, and on the other hand is unimaginably sad.

At various times, Grumpy Cat also had her own bodyguard, too — according to Chase Burns, who guarded the famous feline at a contemporary art museum in 2013, where Grumpy was appearing as a special guest of the Internet Cat Video Festival (yes, really), she was in need of guarding because "a crowd of, what I assume to have been, THOUSANDS was waiting to take a picture and, if they were lucky, pet the cat." So yeah, her star was really that bright.

Grumpy Cat ate some weird stuff

If you had to imagine what a famous cat eats, you'd probably picture tuna pate or grilled salmon. In Grumpy Cat's case, you might imagine that even grilled salmon wouldn't be quite good enough to turn that frown into a normal feline expression of contempt. But Grumpy Cat actually had much simpler tastes than that.

Grumpy Cat was the Friskies spokescat, so it probably goes without saying that she ate a lot of Friskies, which is too bad, really, since she was also a millionaire and could almost certainly have managed to afford something more quality than what us normies can buy at any grocery store. Still, she was likely obligated to eat her Friskies — according to Mental Floss, her favorite food was Friskies Savory Shreds, though she did branch out into tuna on occasion. She also ate — wait for it — Starbucks coffee cake. She truly was a star for the masses.

People worried that she was being exploited

Whenever a human being dares to make a little money off an animal, there are going to be people crying foul — even though the average chicken suffers pretty horribly compared to the average meme goddess. Anyway, a lot of people complained that Grumpy Cat was being exploited by the Bundesens. "She's clearly exhausted," wrote the Daily Dot, "and perhaps not entirely pleased to be trotted out, manhandled, subjected to teeming crowds, flashing cameras, and terrifying camera sets … she didn't choose this particular career, though her owners seem perfectly happy to exploit her."

It is worth noting, though, that PETA — famously critical of just about every human being who has ever looked sideways at a non-human animal — said that the cat's schedule wasn't anything to worry about. Specifically, the notorious animal-rights group cleared a 2013 South by Southwest appearance because of the care that had clearly been taken for Grumpy Cat's welfare. Visitors weren't allowed to touch her, and the public had access to her only in one-hour intervals. And really, if PETA says an animal star is well cared-for, the animal's probably fine.

Grumpy Cat's owners said her safety was always their top priority

The Bundesens have had to devote a lot of energy to reassuring the public about Grumpy Cat's well-being. "99% of the time she is a normal kitty," they said on their website. "She isn't in front of a camera all of the time like many people perceive. We only take photos sets once every week or so and on the few occasions where we have met with the media or licensed partners we ensure the sessions are short and that she isn't handled by many people." She even seems to enjoy her travels — "When I get her carrier out, she'll come and climb in it," Bundesen said. "I think she's kind of liking it."

As for the idea that Grumpy Cat is drugged during her personal appearances, they have an answer for that, too. "She never has been [sedated] and never will be," Bryan Bundesen, Tabatha Bundesen's brother told Mental Floss. "Her health and safety is the most important thing to us."

Grumpy Cat had book deals and was in a movie

With fame comes book and movie deals, even for notoriously miserable felines. Grumpy Cat had such a prolific career in advertising that Ad Age devoted an entire article to her accomplishments, which included a deal for a series of Grumpy Cat Golden Books, a Lifetime movie called Grumpy Cat's Worst Christmas Ever, which one critic said "promises to be an absolutely excruciating experience … so self-referential and self-deprecating that it becomes almost unbearable." Well, you know, in Grumpy Cat's defense, it was a Lifetime movie, and those words could be used to describe pretty much any film shown on that network.

Grumpy Cat was also credited as a published author, which is seriously annoying to pretty much everyone who has ever tried and failed to become a published author since most cats can't hold pencils or dictate. Her book credits include The Grumpy Cat Guide to Life: Observations by Grumpy Cat and Grumpy Cat: A Grumpy Book.

She received a lifetime achievement award before her second birthday

Name one human being who won a "lifetime achievement award" at the age of 18 months. Bet you can't do it. Because duh, no one has ever accomplished anything by the age of 18 months unless you count epic diaper explosions and chewing on your own hand as major accomplishments.

Grumpy Cat, on the other hand, was so accomplished at 18 months that in 2013 she got a Friskies Lifetime Achievement Award for "doing the most to help cats take over the Internet." In that same year, she was named the official "spokescat" for Friskies, and in that role she got to star in several ads and social media videos, including one entitled "It's Hard to be a Cat at Christmas," where she shares the spotlight with other famous internet cats. Friskies donated cans of cat food to shelter animals in exchange for views, so Grumpy Cat was also a philanthropist. That's a lot of achievement for anyone, and especially for a cat.

The face that launched a thousand products

Besides selling a lot of Friskies (and books and calendars and T-shirts), Grumpy Cat sold coffee and cereal, too. According to Ad Age, in 2014 she appeared in a Honey Nut Cheerios commercial, where she met "Buzz the Bee" and proceeded to predictably not get along with him.

Then in 2018, owner Tabatha Bundesen formed a partnership with a company called Grenade Beverage and the Grumpy Cat Grumppuccino was born. Grenade Beverage was evidently not satisfied with the profits from their line of iced coffees featuring Grumpy Cat's perpetually annoyed face because they also tried to sell Grumpy Cat ground coffee and T-shirts even though their contract didn't give them the right to use the cat's likeness on other products. Bundesen eventually won $710,000 for copyright and trademark infringement, thus proving that with the right representation even a cat can sue the pants off the people who displease her.

She was worth millions

No one really knows how much Grumpy Cat was worth because the Bundesens would never say. According to the tabloid Express, Grumpy Cat amassed more than $100 million in her first two years as a star, dwarfing the earnings of stars like Gwyneth Paltrow (who earned an estimated $20 million in the year the comparison was made), which is frankly hilarious because honestly that Goop stuff is really Not Cool, Gwyneth. Anyway, Bundesen told the Huffington Post that the number was "completely inaccurate," though she rather tellingly did not say whether the actual figure was lower or higher than the one quoted.

Bundesen also noted that she was hoping to find an outlet where she could "set the record straight," which silenced the speculation for a bit though it does look like she never really worked especially hard at the whole "setting the record straight" thing. Also, none of this takes into account the part where it's exactly nobody's business.

Grumpy Cat came from a broken home

Poor Grumpy Cat, her mom was a single parent and her dad was a deadbeat tabby, or maybe not even a tabby, according to her official website. "Her mom is a calico domestic short hair cat and her father has grey and white stripes," the site reports. "Though I suppose there could be a different father, promiscuous cats you know…"

People evidently have always been curious about Grumpy Cat's breed, which is weird because no one ever asks about the breed of regular house cats, and apart from having dwarfism Grumpy Cat was really just a regular house cat. Her family does admit that she didn't really resemble either parent. "She looks similar to a Ragdoll or Snowshoe; but there have never been any of that breed around the house," her website says. At any rate, Grumpy's fame is evidence that even cats from broken homes can achieve great things and … oh wait, pretty much all cats come from broken homes. That's something to be grumpy about.

Grumpy Cat died of a urinary tract infection

Urinary tract infections are actually really common in cats, and they can be deadly. Grumpy Cat had feline dwarfism, which might have made her more susceptible to complications. (According to Senior Cat Wellness," birth abnormalities can cause a "dysfunctional urinary tract.") That's just speculation, though, and we may never really know why Grumpy Cat died so tragically young. So far her family has only said that she "encountered complications from a recent urinary tract infection that unfortunately became too tough for her to overcome." It is clear that she had the best care, and that the family did everything they could to save her.

That doesn't make it any easier, though. Whether you loved Grumpy Cat or were kind of sick of seeing her all over the internet, in your local shopping center, and on random people's T-shirts, there's no denying the powerful impact she had on popular culture. Her family summed it up like this: "Grumpy Cat has helped millions of people smile all around the world — even when times were tough. Her spirit will continue to live on through her fans everywhere."

Grump on, everyone.