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Rob and Fab, After the Fall : Ex-Milli Vanilli Duo Confident They Can Sing on Their Own

January 15, 1992|CHUCK PHILIPS | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

RENO — Robert Pilatus remembers the morning six weeks ago when he climbed onto the railing of his ninth-floor balcony at the Mondrian Hotel in West Hollywood and tried to muster the courage to jump.

Troubled about the decline of his career, depressed over a break-up with a girlfriend and guilt-ridden by family problems, the disgraced Milli Vanilli frontman had downed a fifth of bourbon, swallowed five dozen tranquilizers, slit his left wrist with a shard of broken glass and slowly crawled out onto the railing.

"I can still see myself dangling there nine stories above the Sunset Strip," said Pilatus in his first interview since the Nov. 30 suicide attempt.

"I was shaking and I was crying and I could feel my arms getting weaker and weaker. I wanted to die but I was too scared to let go. So I just hung there waiting for the medication to kick in, hoping that at some point the drugs would just cause me to drop."

Thanks to fast action by Los Angeles County Sheriff's deputies, the 27-year-old lip-sync star's life was spared.

Deputies--sent to the scene by a Los Angeles Times operator whom Pilatus had called only minutes earlier--grabbed the entertainer after luring him inside to answer a call they had placed to his room. He was taken by ambulance to Cedars-Sinai Medical Center and placed under 72-hour observation.

"I'm very embarrassed about it now," Pilatus said. "Right away, I heard people joking about it like it was a publicity stunt or something. But it wasn't. I was truly at the end of my rope. It was like everything caved in on me all at once: the shame, the anger, the guilt. I've never been suicidal, but at that moment I just felt like there was no way out. It's embarrassing but now I have to live with it."

Pilatus, who spent December in a Tucson drug rehabilitation center, returned to Reno last week to put the finishing touches on a new album with his Milli Vanilli partner Fabrice Morvan.

The duo sees the album as a chance to validate their talents after falling from grace in November, 1990, when German producer Frank Farian revealed that they never sang a note as Milli Vanilli. The two credit Robert Foreman, president of Taj Records, a small, Reno-based independent record label, for giving them a second shot at stardom.

Both dressed in black T-shirts, leather pants and jogging shoes, Pilatus and Morvan appeared upbeat during a lengthy interview at the studio where they are recording vocal tracks for their new record, due out in June.

Standing in the middle of a recording booth in the high-tech studio installed in a Victorian house, Pilatus and Morvan belted out a pure two-part harmony on their new pop ballad "I Just Want to Be Your Everything"--scheduled to be unveiled Saturday at the international MIDEM conference in Cannes--the same music-industry event where producer Farian introduced Milli Vanilli to the world in 1988.

The November suicide attempt came almost a year after Pilatus and Morvan admitted they never sang a note on their 10-million selling album "Girl You Know It's True." The duo was subsequently dropped by Arista Records and stripped of its best new artist Grammy Award by the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences.

Consumers filed more than two dozen class-action fraud lawsuits against Pilatus and Morvan and their record company in 1990. One such case in Chicago is expected to be ruled on Jan. 29. (See related story.)

Following the lip-sync debacle, Pilatus and Morvan sought to portray themselves in interviews as highly competent vocalists trapped in a hoax orchestrated by forces beyond their control.

But singing for a living has proven to be much more difficult than they imagined.

"It's certainly not like Milli Vanilli--that's for sure," said Pilatus, the son of a German mother and an American soldier father who was adopted by a German couple and raised in Germany. "All we had to do in Milli Vanilli was show up for the video."

"Now we have to work long hours with singing and dialect coaches to make sure we get the notes and the phrasing right," added Morvan, 25, who was born in the Caribbean island of Guadeloupe and raised in Paris. "It's been a major blow to the ego."

The duo--who reportedly earned about $4 million during their Milli days--acknowledged going through a severe identity crisis last year that caused them to seek therapy. Still, Pilatus did not place blame for his suicide attempt on the lip-sync scandal alone.

He pointed to problems with his family, including a recent call from his adoptive mother during which, he said, she requested he change his name, claiming that various European media reports related to the lip-sync hoax had disgraced the family.

The German teen idol also cited his break-up with a girlfriend and a surprise visit on Thanksgiving from his 4-year-old son and the boy's German mother, whom he hadn't seen in more than a year, for pushing him over the brink.

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