We are très désolé to report that YouTube cat-video sensation Henri, le Chat Noir has died at the ripe old age of 17. His collaborator Will Braden, aka the “thieving filmmaker,” announced Henry’s passing in a moving Facebook post. Apparently, Henri had a deteriorating spinal condition and had been rendered largely immobile as a result. Despite the pandemic, a local vet made a home visit to “help him pass peacefully, surrounded by those that loved him,” Braden wrote.
Henri (née Henry) was not actually Braden’s cat; the Facebook post identifies Braden’s mother as Henri’s real-life caretaker. Henri lived in an undisclosed location in Seattle’s North End, largely oblivious to his online celebrity. He was a rescue cat, adopted from a local animal shelter as a kitten, who shared his living space with a second white cat, known to his fans as ‘l’Imbecile Blanc,” who survives him. While a student at the Seattle Film Institute, Braden noted Henri’s “regal presence and distinguished personality,” and he featured the cat in a short film for class. The video hit YouTube on May 24, 2007, and Henri’s existential musings soon began winning enthusiastic fans.
It was the 2012 sequel (embedded below), Henri 2: Paws de Deux, that went truly viral and turned Henri into an Internet celebrity, with many declaring it to be the best cat video on the Internet. Indeed, the short film won the Golden Kitty Award at the Walker Art Center’s Internet Cat Video Festival. Henri gave a suitably world-weary statement on his win via Braden: “That I have received this golden, smiling idol for a film documenting my metaphysical torment speaks volumes about the spiritual void of humanity. Shiny and meaningless, life marches on.”
Braden and Henri went on to make a total of 17 short films together. Braden wrote the scripts, and his mother, who is fluent in French, assisted with the translations. Who can forget Henri’s trip to the vet, or Henri 5: The Worst Noel, or his grumpy feline musings on politics and literature? Kibble-manufacturer Friskies commissioned four short films on “cat food boredom” as a YouTube viral marketing campaign, and Braden published two books featuring the angst-filled feline. Henri officially “retired” from his film career in 2018, announced in Henri 11: Oh, Revoir.
Braden also offered some thoughts on the secret of Henri’s broad appeal in his Facebook tribute:
I always noted how little Henry had in common with the angst-filled character he portrayed. He was a good-natured and happy cat, and as far as I could tell, never suffered a single existential crisis during his life. But as the years went on, I started to realize that it was his imperious stare and the nobility behind his eyes that made Henri work, more than my terrible French and pedestrian piano playing. No one had a problem immediately accepting that this cat was a deep-thinking philosopher. Maybe he actually was. He also liked chin scratches.
Despite his grief, Braden is planning a video tribute to Henri (and Henry) for next year’s Internet Cat Video Festival. “I know that hearing this sad news will be difficult,” Braden wrote on Facebook. “But remember that Henri lives on in your memories as well as ours, and in the amusement he brought to all of you. The foremost goal was always to make people laugh! I would encourage all of you to share your favorite Henri video or quote today, because everyone needs a good laugh now more than ever.”
Farewell, our beloved Henri, le Chat Noir. The Internet never forgets.
Listing image by Henri, le Chat Noir/Facebook