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 mouthing the words to hits of the day. He even got celebrities, including Katy Perry and 50 Cent, to join him.
Cahill, a charming, bespectacled musician in his own right, whose videos delighted millions, died Thursday in a Chicago hospital, his manager David Graham confirmed to CNN. He was 27.
The Chicago native had Maroteaux-Lamy syndrome, a condition that causes organs to enlarge among other symptoms, for which he received frequent treatments and underwent several surgeries. According to his verified social media accounts, he was scheduled to undergo open heart surgery earlier this month.
Cahill became one of the first viral stars of the 2010s with his lip-syncing videos, filmed in his bedroom from his desk while he was still a teenager. The concept was simple: An ever-expressive Cahill would simply mouth 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 pour in.
These videos often reached the singers behind the hits, beginning with Perry after Cahill lip synced to her “Teenage Dream,” one of his most popular videos. She tweeted her love for his rendition and later invited him to appear on a Pennsylvania tour stop in 2011.
Cahill recruited celebrities like 50 Cent and Ariana Grande to lip sync in his YouTube videos, and some, including Jennifer Aniston, producer David Guetta and the contestants on “America’s Next Top Model” borrowed his viral star power for their own videos. Per his manager, Cahill became one of the first YouTubers to pass 500 million views on his personal channel.
But Cahill wanted to be known for more than simply lip syncing, releasing a single of his own in 2013 and later becoming a DJ and producer.
His friends and admirers remembered Cahill’s joy and love of music. DJ Pauly D of “Jersey Shore” fame thanked him for “always making the world smile.” Perez Hilton, gossip staple of the mid-aughts internet, reshared a video the two had made years earlier to “Moves Like Jagger” by Maroon 5. And the popular Twitch user Ellohime, with whom Cahill played the video game “RimWorld” regularly on the platform, paid tribute to Cahill as a “Viking forever,” from one viral star to another.
Graham, his manager, called Cahill a “legend.”
“Keenan inspired millions worldwide by being his true self despite his short stature, disease, and age of 15-16,” he said in an email to CNN, referring to the age at which Cahill became famous.