Milli Vanilli: Rob died

A full article from April 17, 1998 Entertainment Weekly:

The Sad Truth

The life of Milli Vanilli's Rob Pilatus comes to an unglamorous end in a German hotel room.

by Chris Willman

The jokes started immediately. How could we really be sure that was him in the casket? Would hymns be lip-synched at the funeral service? Rob Pilatus, half of the disgraced pop duo Milli Vanilli, got little more respect in death than in life. On April 3, shortly after he finished yet another stint in drug rehab, Pilatus was found dead at 32 in a Frankfurt hotel room - possibly the victim, former producer Frank Farian told the German media, of a combination of alcohol and prescription pills. (At press time, one unconfirmed report said that German police were treating the death as suspicious because Pilatus' body showed evvidence of head injuries.) Those who knew Pilatus, however, suggest that the truly lethal cocktail was the combination of his addictive personality and one of pop history's most notorious cases of rejection.

Ironically, the erstwhile Millis seemed on the edge of a mini-resurgence. Last summer's premiere of VH1's documentary series Behind The Music was devoted to the group and became the top-rated original program in the cable network's history, drawing over 5 million viewers. Moreover, a biopic is in the works. "The VH1 special just scratched the surface," says producer Mimi Polk Gitlin (Thelma and Louise), who is working on the film with Pilatus' ex-partner Fabrice Morvan, Morvan's manager Kim Marlowe, and a VH1 producer. "We want the story to be about two young innocents who get caught in this web of deception. Rob was going to be very much a part of this, and the hope was that somewhere along the way, he would get himself sober."

Pilatus' self-destructive streak dates back to the glory days - before he and Morvan were exposed as frauds - when he and his partner in mime were selling millions of records, and spending money on cocaine accordingly. Pilatus, a German-born model, and Morvan, a Parisian, had already spent a couple of years floundering as a duo, when they hooked up with Farian to form Milli Vanilli. In 1989, Farian had them lip-synch the words to "Girl You Know It's True." An album of the same name went to No. 1, sold 7 million copies, and won them a Best New Artist Grammy in 1990, before the truth came out; the trophies were returned and Girl became the biggest-selling album ever to be permanently deleted from a label's catalog.

In 1991, Pilatus called the Los Angeles Times threatening suicide; he had to be retrieved from a hotel balcony by police. Two years later, the redubbed Rob and Fab went on The Arsenio Hall Show to perform a new single in their own voices, but while Morvan proved a serviceable singer, Pilatus did not. Since 1995, the two hadn't spoken; Morvan has quietly been preparing for a solo career, doing occasional dates at L.A.'s Viper Room. A recent L.A. Times review enthused: "This time around, Fabrice Morvan is no fraud." (For his part, Morvan released a statement, saying in part, "Milli Vanilli was not a disgrace. The only disgrace is how Rob died, all alone.... Where were the ones that pushed us to the top, who made the millions?")

Pilatus, though, continued his downward spiral: In December 1995, he attacked a man with a metal lamp base; the following month, he vandalized a home and slapped another man; the month after that, he slapped a man who caught him trying to break into his car. Pleading no contest to the three attacks (all of which took place in L.A.) and related charges in 1996, he was sentenced to three months in jail and six in rehab. It wouldn't be his last time in drug treatment (primarily for cocaine abuse). About a month before his death, he was interviewed in a rehab center on German TV, where he shocked viewers by remarking that he wanted to die; one associate believes that he'd been in rehab nearly a dozen times by then.

April Sutton, a broadcast journalist who became friends with the duo while covering their rise for the cable network BET, feels there were "many elements that made it [more] traumatic for Rob [than Fab]. He was an adopted child and didn't have a solid family base. He ran away from home as a teenager. Rob was a lonely soul in America attempting to understand the culture, wandering in the dark."

And, perhaps, as an immigrant, Pilatus had too much pride to allow him to understand that America might be more forgiving - if not embracing - if he appeared to be in on the joke. Especially now, with '80s nostalgia in vogue and public figures being forgiven for far grosser crimes, the time might have seemed right to crack a smile and cash in. But Pilatus still hoped to be taken seriously. Says VH1's Gay Rosenthal, who executive-produced the Behind The Music special, "When we had the cameras and he had his little entourage, shooting him on the beach, you could tell that's what he loved; he needed that attention. He was in great shape, working out every day. But inside, he was the opposite. For someone who looked so strong, Rob was a very, very fragile person."