Before there were countless TikTok users lip-syncing and attempting complicated choreography to pop hits, there was Keenan Cahill – lip-sync extraordinaire.
With little more than a desktop computer and pure passion, Cahill racked up millions of views on his YouTube channel by speaking the words to the hits of the day. He even invited celebrities, including Katy Perry and 50 Cent, to join him.
Cahill, a charming, bespectacled musician in his own right whose videos have delighted millions, died Thursday in a Chicago hospital, his manager David Graham confirmed to CNN. He was 27 years old.
The Chicago native suffered from Maroteaux-Lamy syndrome, a condition that causes organ enlargement among other symptoms, for which he received frequent treatments and underwent multiple surgeries. According to his verified social media accounts, he had to undergo open heart surgery earlier this month.
“Complications arose that he couldn’t overcome,” his family noted in a GoFundMe hosted by his aunt and also shared on her Facebook page. The fundraiser was started to help pay for Cahill’s medical and funeral expenses.
Cahill became one of the first viral stars of the 2010s with his lip-sync videos, filmed in his bedroom from his office when he was still a teenager. The concept was simple: an ever-expressive Cahill would simply say the lyrics to hits of the era like Usher’s “DJ Got Us Fallin’ in Love” and Rihanna’s “Only Girl (In the World)” with aplomb and watch the views flock.
These videos often reached the singers behind the hits, starting with Perry after Cahill lip-synced to his “Teenage Dream”, one of his most popular videos. She tweeted her love for his performance and later invited him to tour Pennsylvania in 2011.
Cahill has recruited celebrities like 50 Cent and Ariana Grande to lip-synch in his YouTube videos, and some, including Jennifer Aniston, producer David Guetta and “America’s Next Top Model” contestants have borrowed his viral star power for their own videos. According to his manager, Cahill became one of the first YouTubers to surpass 500 million views on his personal channel.
But Cahill wanted to be known for more than just lip-syncing, releasing his own single in 2013 and later becoming a DJ and producer.
“He never made a lot of money, but he loved what he did and made so many people smile,” his family said on GoFundMe.
His friends and admirers remembered Cahill’s joy and love for music. DJ Pauly D of “Jersey Shore” fame thanked him to “always make the world smile”. Perez Hilton, the internet gossip staple of the mid-2000s, share a video the two made years earlier to Maroon 5’s “Moves Like Jagger.” And popular Twitch user Ellohime, with whom Cahill regularly played the video game “RimWorld” on the platform, tribute paid to Cahill as a “Viking forever,” from one viral star to the next.
Graham, his manager, called Cahill a “legend”.
“Keenan has inspired millions around the world by being himself despite his short stature, illness and age of 15-16,” he said in an email to CNN, referring to the age at which Cahill became famous.