Grumpy Cat – the most famous cat on the internet, whose downturned mouth and unimpressed expression was the universal digital shorthand for displeasure – has died.

The seven-year-old cat, real name Tardar Sauce or Tard, became one of the internet’s first “petfluencers” after gaining fame online for her perpetually gloomy gaze, launching an empire worth millions. She died in the arms of her owner, Tabatha Bundesen, in Phoenix, Arizona, on Tuesday morning after complications from a urinary tract infection.

News of her passing was shared with her nearly 11m followers on Instagram beneath the caption: “Some days are grumpier than others.”

“Despite care from top professionals, as well as from her very loving family, Grumpy encountered complications from a recent urinary tract infection that unfortunately became too tough for her to overcome.

“Besides being our baby and a cherished memory of the family, Grumpy Cat has helped millions of people smile all around the world – even when times were tough. Grumpy Cat's new grumpy book - in pictures

“Her spirit will continue to live on through her fans everywhere.”

Grumpy Cat’s manager, Ben Lashes, told the Guardian that Grumpy Cat “loved her many fans in the UK”.

“She was lucky enough to travel there for the unveiling of her Madame Tussauds wax figure, a signing at HMV Oxford, a buyers’ showcase for Primark, and a private visit to Abbey Road studios. Grumpy will forever be the queen of cats.”

Tardar Sauce was born the runt of her litter on 4 April 2012, with a combination of feline dwarfism and an underbite thought to be behind her disgruntled expression. She was launched into internet superstardom when Bundesen’s brother, visiting from Ohio, put a photo of “Grumpy Cat” on Reddit that September.

The image of Tard became one of the first reaction gifs, used to communicate apathy or cynicism. There are nearly 40,000 results for “Grumpy Cat” on the gif aggregator

Online celebrity quickly translated into a real-world empire with a Christmas film, in which she was voiced by comedian Aubrey Plaza, many TV appearances, and a range of merchandise including soft toys, clothing and even – since February – an original fragrance.

Her owners had earlier countered claims of exploitation, writing on the Grumpy Cat website that “99% of the time she is a normal kitty” and that “for the safety of our family and that of Grumpy Cat” she did not do personal meetings.

Last year they won $750,000 in damages from a US coffee company for violating the terms of their agreement to use the cat’s image on a line of iced coffee drinks called “Grumppuccinos”. The cat made a brief appearance at the trial.

Though many other social media “petfluencers” followed in Grumpy Cat’s trail – including Tuna Melts My Heart, a chihuahua with a similar underbite – Tard remained supreme, being named one of Time’s 10 most important animal accounts this year.

It is not known whether there are plans for a public memorial.

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