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Chalk One Up For YouTube

We've all seen the cat drinking from the toilet bowl, the gross pranks, Mentos-and-Diet Coke volcanoes and other junk that passes for entertainment on YouTube. But here's a story of tragedy turned joyful tribute that probably wouldn't have happened without the help of the video mega-site.

I was watching The Office the other day with my wife. As the credits began to roll, a video also appeared of a happy-go-lucky teenage boy playing the hit comedy's theme on a piano.

Though I didn't know the boy or his story, I dreaded the likely reason I was seeing the video, and said, "Please don't let him be dead." But sure enough, a few seconds later, the message "In Memoriam, Nathan Alden Robinson" appeared on the screen.

Another day, another tragedy on TV, I thought. But the next day, the sadness of it all hit me again on a more personal basis. Through a set of unrelated phone calls I came to find out (imagine that, no social network required!) Nathan had been the son of the sister of one of my best friends growing up, who I hadn't seen in many years.

The tragic news in this more personal context hit me like the proverbial ton of bricks. I went back and watched the clip again several times, agreeing with the poster who said the quirky theme music never sounded so sad.

Behind The Office Tribute

I dug a little deeper into the story. The 15-year-old freshman at the Boston-area Newton North High School was a math whiz and talented musician. Nathan died from complications after contracting pneumonia and influenza -- basically, a freak occurrence. A few weeks before his death, he was over a friend's house and they were talking about The Office, one of his favorite shows.

According to a report by the local NBC affiliate, his friend Kate Lewis suggested he play the theme on the piano. Nathan found the sheet music online and within minutes was playing his sweet rendition of the theme song, which Kate recorded.

After Nathan's death, Kate posted the video on YouTube so that his parents could view it. A newspaper reporter saw the clip and sent it to NBC, which then moved quickly to add it to last week's credits.

Kate later told Channel 7, the NBC affiliate:

"Just people reaching out, seeing Nathan, who was unknown a month ago," Kate said. "It's sort of upsetting, like ... something horrible had to happen for his talent to be known, but it's sort of special that he's looking down and seeing how amazing this all is."

Indeed it is. Play on, Nathan.

David Needle is West Coast Bureau Chief for InternetNews.com, based in San Francisco.