The Little-Known History Behind The Sad Keanu Meme

One fateful day in 2010, Keanu Reeves sat down on a bench in New York to enjoy a sandwich. Well, perhaps enjoy is not the right word, as the actor looked absolutely miserable at the time. A nearby photographer snapped a photo of the star, and thus began the history of the Sad Keanu meme. 

While memes can live and die in a single day thanks to the breakneck pace of the internet, few have managed to make as big an impact as the Keanu Reeves meme. Upon first discovery, the joke was quickly picked up by hundreds of thousands of people, up until the DMCA began issuing takedown notices to prominent meme pages. Even compared to past Keanu memes, this one grabbed the attention of the public in a way that was absolutely unprecedented. 

The true story behind the Sad Keanu Reeves meme is one for the history books. From the legal backlash, to the outpour of support from fans who believed the star was a wonderful person, don't be surprised if this tale goes on to serve as the inspiration for a future "Best Picture" Oscar nominee. 

  • The Meme Initially Blew Up On Reddit

    The Meme Initially Blew Up On Reddit
    Photo: Wikimedia Commons / CC-BY

    While several earlier Sad Keanu sightings have been reported on ephemeral message boards such as 4Chan, the first concrete use of the meme occurred on June 3, 2010, when Reddit user rockon4life45 created a thread titled "Keanu. More sadness in the comments.

    The thread is helmed by the now instantly recognizable photo of the star, along with the caption "I really enjoy acting. Because when I act, I'm no longer me." The promised additional sadness came in the form of a screenshotted 4Chan list detailing all of Reeves's reasons for being sad (close friend died of drugs, never married, etc.). 

    The thread instantly took the internet by storm, garnering 281,000 views and rocketing straight to the front page of Reddit. 

  • Tumblr Picked The Meme Up, Escalating The Situation

    Tumblr Picked The Meme Up, Escalating The Situation
    Photo: magdi / Memecenter

    After experiencing explosive popularity on Reddit, Keanu memes began popping up all over the internet in the summer of 2010. By the second week of June, online news outlets such as Buzzfeed began documenting the phenomenon. Some fans even planned out "Operation: Happy Reeves," which aimed to cheer up the actor, and which attracted over 14,000 supporters to its Facebook event. 

    On June 10, the Tumblr account "SadKeanu" was launched, creating a space for meme makers across the globe to come together and share their work. The joke reached an apparent critical mass on June 14, when the website opened its virtual doors. 

  • The Viral Meme Spawned Loads Of Copycats

    The Viral Meme Spawned Loads Of Copycats
    Photo: user uploaded image

    Whenever a meme goes viral on the internet, imitators do everything in their power to capitalize on the original's prestige. This was certainly the case for the Sad Keanu meme, as the internet was flooded with copycat images, mere days after the joke's rise to fame. 

    The first notable spinoff meme was titled "Sad Keanu in a Helmet," and featured Reeves sitting down to enjoy some juice while also wearing a helmet. Another notable derivative was the anachronistic "Happy Keanu" meme, which began circulating the web in October, 2010.  

    The popularity of the joke caused meme makers to branch out to other celebs, leading to the creation of memes such as "Sad Kanye" and "Sad Jack White" a few years later. While these analogs experienced varying levels of success, none managed to take the world by storm quite like the image of the dispirited Reeves. 

  • The DMCA Stepped In To End The Cavalcade Of Sadness

    The DMCA Stepped In To End The Cavalcade Of Sadness
    Photo: Metaweb / CC-BY

    On June 17, 2010, the website received a DMCA takedown notice, just three days after the blog's conception. Creators were informed that the images hosted on their site violated copyright laws, and therefore had to be removed immediately. 

    Surprisingly, the takedown did not come from the melancholic actor himself; the notice was actually issued on behalf of Ron Asadorian, a photographer for the publication Splash News, who was responsible for snapping the now infamous lunchtime photo. Even if the image was not being used to make money, it still technically violated fair use laws, so its owners were allowed to put an end to the internet's fun. 

  • The Creators Of Said Goodbye To Their Fans

    The Creators Of Said Goodbye To Their Fans
    Photo: Metaweb / CC-BY was instructed to remove any memes featuring Ron Asadorian's photograph. Though the website was only active for a few days, it had managed to rack up over 270 memes involving the image. 

    As their imminent demise crept closer, the creators of the site posted a few kind parting words for their mass of online fans:

    "Hey Everyone,

    Splash News has decided to keep their DMCA in place, as well as Tumblr, which means we may not publish any more of your awesome submissions and we must start to take down all of our previous 270+ posts. In addition, this blog will most likely be deleted in the next 48 hours by Tumblr because of the DMCA.

    Although we do believe that it can fall under 'fair use,' both myself and my partner don’t have any time or resources to fight it.

    Thanks to everyone that helped out making this meme the most awesome one on the internet."

    After the offending posts were taken down, ceators tried to continue on by posting memes that did not involve Asadorian's photo. However, like the light from a dead star, these new memes were nothing more than a reminder of something great that could never be revitalized. As public support dwindled, was eventually forced to close down altogether (though the tumblr page is still online). 

  • "Cheer Up Keanu Day" Was Planned For June 15, 2010

    "Cheer Up Keanu Day" Was Planned For June 15, 2010
    Photo: Wikimedia Commons / CC-BY

    In the wake of Reeves's despondent image, some fans felt the need to let the actor know that he was loved. As a result, June 15 was declared "Cheer Up Keanu Day," with fans across the web prompting others to do anything they could to make the actor feel a little bit better. 

    The unofficial holiday brought forth a flurry of supportive letters, phone calls, and message board posts, all aimed at reminding Reeves (as well as the public at large) that his work was valuable. On top of that, a Facebook event set up to organize the holiday ended with over 14,000 RSVP'd attendees

    While "Cheer Up Keanu Day" was a smash success, Daniel Murphy, the creator of the Facebook event, didn't think that fans had anything to worry about with regards to Reeves's mental health. When asked about the event by Time, Murphy responded:

    "I don't really think he's that sad; I just think his work is underappreciated."

    With that in mind, this coming June 15 might be a good time for you to brush off that copy of John Wick 2 you've been meaning to watch for so long.