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Rob Pilatus and Milli Vanilli

Published: 6/8/2014
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Rob Pilatus (AP Photo/Nick Ut, file)

Rob Pilatus wanted to be a star. Unfortunately, he became famous. Pilatus, who would have turned 49 today, was half of the most reviled major musical act of the 1980s, Milli Vanilli. He and fellow performer Fabrice Morvan went from being virtual unknowns to Grammy Award-winning recording artists, but wound up as one of the cruelest punch lines in pop culture history.

When it was revealed that the phenomenally successful duo were merely lip-syncing over other singers, the backlash against Pilatus and Milli Vanilli proved swift and terrible. Their Grammy Award for best new artist was rescinded by the Recording Academy, something that had never happened in the history of the Grammys. Their record label, Arista, dropped the duo from the label's roster and took the additional step of removing Milli Vanilli's No. 1 album, the ironically titled Girl You Know It's True, from their catalog. The biggest rebuke, however, came in a legal ruling in 1991 that required Arista Records to offer partial refunds to anyone who had purchased a Milli Vanilli album or single. Never before or since has a musical act been so thoroughly repudiated by fans, critics and the industry.

In the face of such overwhelming scorn, Pilatus and Morvan engaged in some creative damage control, trying to salvage their musical careers and personal reputations. Most notably, the duo poked fun at themselves and their lip-syncing past in a Carefree Chewing Gum commercial.

After rebranding themselves as Rob & Fab, the duo released a self-titled album in 1993 on the small label Taj. The label, sadly, lacked the money to produce physical copies of the album or promote it, and went bankrupt. The disc sold 2,000 copies, despite a live performance and contrition-filled interview on The Arsenio Hall Show to promote the disc, as well as a video for the single "We Can Get It On."

Rob & Fab would mark the end of Pilatus' career as a recording artist. After the album failed, he fell into a struggle with substance abuse and eventually was ordered into rehabilitation by a judge after pleading guilty in several assault cases, according to his obituary in The New York Times. During this time, relations soured between Pilatus and Morvan, and the two went their separate ways, never to collaborate again. Pilatus died in 1998 of an accidental drug overdose.

Written by Seth Joseph. Find him on Google+.

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