Richard ‘Lowtax’ Kyanka, the founder of Something Awful and a key influence on aspects of modern internet culture, has died at the age of 45. The news was initially posted to Something Awful by longtime forum administrator Fragmaster, who was a personal friend of Kyanka, and Motherboard managed to confirm with the Lee’s Summit Missouri police department that Kyanka died by suicide on November 9.
“I guess I should preface this by saying this isn’t a joke especially since I’m posting for like the first time in 10 years or something, but I got the bad news today directly from Rich’s family” wrote Fragmaster. “Lowtax has passed away. I didn’t ask for details. I don’t know details. I don’t know what the current opinion of Rich here is. Not here to answer questions, I’m sharing the news. I really hate to share this news. But there you go. Goonspeed golden manbaby 555s 2 heaven.”
Fragmaster also shared the below video, in which he delivers a fuller tribute to Kyanka, and encouraged people to donate to a GoFundMe to support Kyanka’s daughter.
Kyanka’s influence on the internet and modern social media, good and bad, is impossible to deny. Something Awful was intended as a comedy website, but its origins can be traced back to Quake.
“I dropped out of school my junior year because I hated engineering and took a job being a systems administrator for the Vanderbilt Vision and Research Center,” Kyanka told Vice in 2017. “In my free time I would play a lot of Quake 2 and write about Quake 2. Around ’98, GameSpy said, “Do you want to run PlanetQuake?” So I said, “Yeah, OK,” and moved to Orange County. I got paid $24,000 a year to write about Quake 2.”
Something Awful appeared in 1999, intended as basically a personal comedy website and a place for Kyanka to vent about GameSpy, but with functionality that allowed users to share blogs, pictures and shitpost on forums. The motto: “the internet makes you stupid.” And it is probably the shitposting more than anything else that saw Something Awful—and its influence—explode.
One thing that would later come to annoy Kyanka was its role in popularising internet memes (he regarded sharing someone else’s humour as unoriginal), with SA giving birth to stuff like “All your base are belong to us” and later the Slender Man urban legend. Other major aspects of SA were the idea of weekly Photoshop Phridays, the emergence of Let’s Play videos, and being the launchpad for groups like Mega64. The site’s “Fuck You And Die” forum is an infamous troll haunt from which internet figures like dril have emerged.
ARMY: your nickname reflects poorly on us all. we’re changing it to something like “raven” or “switchknife”ME: no. “hostage killer” is goodApril 28, 2015
But there was always a toxic side to Something Awful. Its members would brigade people and organise harassment campaigns. It encouraged some of the most base online behaviour imaginable and, when those groups became too toxic for even SA, they went off and founded sites that were way worse. Kyanka’s decision to ban hentai from SA led one individual to go off and found 4Chan. Hence this image.
The worst part of Kyanka’s biography is accusations of domestic violence that surfaced in 2020, which he denied, and the way they were discussed on the Something Awful forums: in recent history he had become a somewhat-hated presence on the site, and in 2020 sold it to longtime admin Jeffrey of YOSPOS (who, six months later, banned Kyanka’s account).
Kyanka’s legacy is thus both undeniable and extremely mixed. If you were interested in games and the internet in the early 2000s, like I was, SA was simply an omnipresent part of the experience: this was where you went to see the jokes and stupid pictures and rant about Sonic Adventure. Back in the days when people still shared memes by email, I’d swear most of the ones I got originated on that site.
Or, as SA poster Breetai put it: “It’s like lowtax definitely belongs on the Mt Rushmore of the internet, but also he would be wearing a confederate general’s uniform and then be immediately dynamited.”
As you might guess, a lot of the responses to Kyanka’s death come in the form of black humour: which, at least in this case, we can say the man himself would have enjoyed.
“I can’t comment on the sordid stuff I have read about Rich in the years since I left the site, but he was never a stranger to controversy” writes redditor Vertigo3PC. “That isn’t some platitude to make him seem like a divisive genius; he was a shmuck. But he was our shmuck, so seeing that he’s passed away is like finding out the stupid dog that used to bite your ankle 1 out of 5 times you’d see him, but you still associate feelings of home and nostalgia with him, was hit by a car and died.”
The Something Awful thread announcing Kyanka’s death has now been locked. “Thread went from funny jokes to returning goons getting upset at the jokes to intense furry/monstergirl debate to qcs handwringing in just 150 pages,” wrote GrimGypsy in one of the final comments, “and now nothing is funny or satisfying and the whole thing just feels annoying. truly a fitting memorial to Richard.”
Kyanka in his later years became disillusioned with what he’d had a hand in creating, and the internet more generally, looking back on Something Awful’s early years as something of a golden age.
“I would wake up and instead of going back to sleep like a normal person I would start writing. Most of the time it would be dumb, but it would be stuff that entertained me,” Kyanka told Vice in 2017. “That’s all I really cared about. Parody, satire, stuff about…I don’t want to say current events, but crappy internet things. I would find a page on horrible, scary dolls and I would review the dolls. Parodies of wonks who were saying the internet was the future without saying, ‘Well there could be a possible downside to the internet.’ I’m obviously not a visionary, but I predicted that the internet would be shitty back in 1999. Everybody was talking about how the internet was going to revolutionize everything and everything was going to be great, but nobody ever talked about how shitty the internet could also be.”
If you or someone you know is having suicidal thoughts, contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline (US), Crisis Services Canada (CA), Samaritans (UK), or Lifeline (AUS). If you are outside of these regions, check this list for a hotline in your country.