Editor's note: An earlier version of this post reported that Grumpy Cat had earned her owner nearly $100 million in two years. It has been corrected to include Tabatha Bundesen's denial of those reports.
Earlier today, several media outlets (including this one) reported that Grumpy Cat, the dour feline who rocketed to meme superstardom a few short years ago, had earned a reported $99.5 million in just two years for owner Tabatha Bundesen, a former Red Lobster waitress who parlayed her cat’s online popularity into a lucrative brand. The claim originated in Express, a British tabloid.
Ms. Bundesen called the report "completely false" to the Huffington Post Monday afternoon. She didn't specify Grumpy Cat's actual earnings.
Grumpy Cat, who goes by Tardar Sauce in her private life, makes her money through appearances at conventions like South by Southwest and Comicon, as well licensing for a wide variety of products, including a series of best-selling children’s books, greeting cards, Friskies cat food, a line of coffee drinks called “Grumpucchinos,” and even a feature film – “Grumpy Cat’s Worst Christmas Ever" premiered on Lifetime over Thanksgiving weekend.
"What she’s achieved in such a short time is unimaginable and absolutely mind-blowing,” Ms. Bundesen told Express. “I was able to quit my job as a waitress within days of her first appearance on social media and the phone simply hasn’t stopped ringing since.”
Grumpy Cat first caught the Web’s attention in 2012, when Bundesen’s brother posted a photo of the newly-adopted the online platform reddit. The picture spread quickly, with users tacking on gloomy captions like “I purred once. It was awful.”
As her fame grew, the Bundesens hired Ben Lashes, a self-styled “Internet meme talent manager” whose clients also include “Keyboard Cat” ( a cat who plays the piano keyboard in a series of popular videos). Grumpy Cat is registered with the US Patent and Trademark Office, and licensed merchandise like T-shirts and mugs are sold at major retailers like Hot Topic. Among her numerous media appearances, she has been featured in a commercial for Honey Nut Cheerios, as well as in the finale of the most recent season of “The Bachelorette.”
Grumpy Cat is far from the first Internet cat luminary: the online cat-industrial complex, as Wired has put it, has a relatively long tradition in Japan, where famous names like Maru (famous for jumping in boxes) and Shiro (famous for letting his owners stack things on him) have been racking up hits for years. The cat video field has become so crowded, in fact, that Minneapolis hosted the first cat video festival in 2012, with Oakland, Calif. following suit the next year.
There are signs that the Grumpy Cat star may be fading: the critical reception for “Grumpy Cat’s Worst Christmas Ever,” was lukewarm at best, with what Entertainment Weekly called “sub-purr” ratings. Still: my cat, great as she is, has yet to earn me a nickel (if anything, she’s on the hook for nine years of food and vet bills) and I suspect the vast majority of the world’s cat owners would say the same. A cat that can generate any income, even if it's not $100 million, is nothing to be sneered at.
Well, from Grumpy Cat's perspective, maybe it is.