Eight years after fifteen-minute pop sensation Milli Vanilli were ensconced in the annals of pop infamy for not singing on their Grammy winning debut album and lip-synching in concert, model/dancer/"singer" Rob Pilatus was found dead in a Frankfurt hotel room on Thursday, April 2. He was 33.
Although an official autopsy report has not yet been issued,
according to German newspaper Blid am Sonntag and AP
reports, Pilatus had been consuming a potentially fatal combination
of alcohol and pills. Pilatus' former partner Fab Morvan and
producer Frank Farian told the newspaper that Pilatus had been
undergoing drug rehab in Germany since late last year.
Milli Vanilli won the 1989 Grammy for Best New Artist on the strength of their multi-platinum debut, Girl You Know It's True. With their long dreadlocks, model builds and smooth dance steps, Pilatus and Morvan made for eye candy that was as easily swallowed as their hook-filled hybrid of soul and pop. At the peak of Milli Vanilli's fame, Pilatus told Time magazine that he and Morvan had contributed more to pop music than Bob Dylan, Paul McCartney and Mick Jagger. When suspicions arose that the duo lip-synched their material, Pilatus was quick to defend his talent. "I am very proud person, and this is embarrassing," he told Rolling Stone in 1990. "We can sing as good as any other pop star in the Top Ten."
Nevertheless, the grand illusion was dispelled in late 1990 after Farian admitted that the pair had not sung a note on the album (those chores had been left to uncredited studio musicians). Disgraced, Pilatus and Morvan were forced to surrender their Grammy and disappeared from the public spotlight as quickly as they had burst into it. A subsequent album made without Farian, 1993's Rob & Fab, bombed.
Morvan would later claim that they were deceived into taking part in the faux-group by Farian; referring to the scandal, Pilatus told the L.A. Times "we sold our souls to the devil." In a 1997 "Behind the Music" VH-1 documentary, Pilatus described the agonizing shame of the scandal which led to his downfall. "It's like something happened to you and you think you're dying -- only you don't die." Although Morvan has attempted to slowly build a solo career out of the ruins (he played a gig at L.A.'s trendy Viper Room late last year), Pilatus' post-MV story went from bad to worse. In the aftermath of the expose, he made multiple suicide attempts, including slashing his wrists and threatening to jump from a ninth-floor balcony. In November of 1997, a Van Nuys, Calif. municipal court judge issued an arrest warrant for Pilatus after he failed to show for a probation violation hearing. He had been charged with grand theft, felony forgery and four 1996 misdemeanor convictions.
Although Farian had plans to release a best of Milli Vanilli album this year and reportedly hoped to reunite Pilatus and Morvan for a tour, the latter seemed adamant about distancing himself from Pilatus and his destructive cycle. In a December 1997 interview with People magazine, Morvan said of Pilatus: "We have no relationship at this point. I got sober. I am going my own way."
Pilatus, a former model and break-dancer, was the son of a U.S. soldier and a German mother. He was born in New York and raised in Munich.