Rob and Fab met in an LA dance club, moved back to Munich and made money by appearing in videos and working in a post office. Producer Frank Farian, whose group Boney M sold millions of records worldwide, set them up to bring some of his musical creations to life. He used them only as the face, not the voice, for the songs.
Pilatus grew up in Munich, Germany. He was the son of a German exotic dancer and a US soldier. Morvan was born in Guadeloupe, but grew up in Miami and Paris. He was an aspiring athlete until a neck injury sidelined him.
Regarding the band name, some publicity materials claimed it was a Turkish phrase for "Positive Energy" even though "Vanilli" doesn't mean anything in Turkish and "Milli" means "National." The name actually came from a defunct disco in Berlin.
In 1988, shortly after Girl You Know It's True
, became a hit in Europe, their real rapper Charles Shaw declared that Rob and Fab were frauds, but was reportedly paid a tidy sum of money to retract his statement. According to Farian, his payout was $155,000.
Farian made an announcement on November 14, 1990 that Rob and Fab never sang a note on any Milli Vanilli record. Five days later, the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences retracted their Best New Artist Grammy, the first time a Grammy had been taken back.
They always lip-synched their performances, but at a concert in Bristol, Connecticut (home of ESPN), their recorded track skipped, repeating the line "Girl you know it's..." over and over. Pilatus and Morvan sung with it for a little while, then ran off stage. The crowd didn't seem to care, and it didn't effect the group's fortunes - they had three more hits after the incident. The media made a big deal out of it only when the scandal started to break.
In 1991, Farian released a record from "The Real Milli Vanilli," which featured vocals from Brad Howell and John Davis, who had performed the actual vocals on many of Milli Vanilli's hits.
In 1993, Pilatus and Morvan released a record as Rob and Fab. They performed a song from it on The Arsenio Hall Show, but It was a complete flop. According to one source, only 3000 copies were even pressed.
Pilatus died in 1998 after overdosing on a combination of drugs and alcohol. He was 32.
Milli Vanilli was the subject of one of the first episodes of VH1's Behind The Music. They produced it shortly before Pilatus died, and had to change the ending as a result.
The group sold over ten million records worldwide over the course of their career.
The first sign that things weren't right with Milli Vanilli was in Pilatus had attempted suicide once before, in 1991, after a romantic breakup and the failure of his career.
There are two sides to this story: Rob and Fab felt manipulated and underpaid, with Fab telling the L.A. Times: "Our producer tricked us. We signed contracts as singers but were never allowed to contribute. It was a nightmare."
Farian told the same newspaper that he paid them $2.1 million, but Pilatus wanted more and forced his hand. Said Farian: "I've never heard such a bad singer. They wanted to sing. They wanted to write songs. It never happened. They went instead to discos till 4 a.m. and slept all day. All they ever really did was party. Someone who lives like that can't make good music."
When the truth was revealed about Milli Vanilli, lawsuits started flying, and since Morvan and Pilatus were listed as vocalists on the album credits, there was fraud and a Chicago court ruled that Arista would have to give rebates of up to $3 to anyone filing a claim who could prove that they purchased the Girl You Know It's True album. About 80,000 claims were filed.
Milli Vanilli didn't rate very well with black audiences despite the color of their frontmen. They didn't make the R&B charts and were lampooned on the TV show In Living Color.