Since that November day last year when Robert Pilatus and Fabrice Morvan sadly admitted that they'd never sung a note as Milli Vanilli, the pair has been the butt of jokes around the world. The very name Milli Vanilli has become generic for fake .
Now Pilatus and Morvan are ready to talk about their first public step toward what they hope will be a renewed show-biz life.
You've probably already seen their first foray into self-deprecation: a 30-second Carefree sugarless bubble-gum commercial in which they fumble their way through a lip-synced rendition of a Rossini opera. The pair are also developing a TV movie script about the Milli Vanilli scandal, in which they plan to play themselves. And they're laying down tracks for an album they hope will be released in January; they bill themselves simply as Rob and Fab now.
"Making fun of yourself in public is not the easiest thing to do," said Pilatus, sitting in a Beverly Hills restaurant with his partner. "We went through a lot of shame and embarrassment and guilt over what we did with Milli Vanilli. But hey, when you make a mistake, sometimes humor is the best way to help you put it behind you."
"Nobody can change the grief or the negative things that happened in the past," Morvan added. "We thought the commercial might be something positive we could do now."
"We think we have the potential to become actors," Pilatus said. "After all, we got a lot of practice while we were in Milli Vanilli. But the most important thing to us now is the new album."
Dressed casually in T-shirts, jean jackets and baseball caps, they said they felt "humbled" by their fall from grace. Their deception came to light when they admitted their fraud and the National Academy of Recording Arts and Sciences stripped them of the best new artist Grammy Award they'd received in February, 1990, for their 10-million-selling album, "Girl You Know It's True."
The confession sent shock waves through the entertainment industry. But Pilatus and Morvan were not prepared for the silent treatment they received. The fallout continues, with a settlement to class-action fraud suits due to be ruled on today. (See related story, F2.)
"It got so confusing," Pilatus said. "When you're a star, everywhere you go everybody keeps telling you how great you are. We knew we were living a lie, but sometimes you catch yourself starting to believe it."
In the first months following their admission, tales about public displays of their rudeness were legendary in music-industry circles. "Sometimes we acted like jerks," Pilatus said. They acknowledged going through an identity crisis during which they abused drugs and alcohol. The duo said they became so depressed in February they decided to see a therapist. Since June, their individual counseling sessions have been cut from four visits per week to one, they said. And, they insist, they're no longer involved in substance abuse.
"Dealing with all the grief and the fear was hard," Morvan said. "We had nobody to turn to. We were so alone."
During their Milli Vanilli days, Pilatus and Morvan were inseparable. Haunted by the fear that somehow the lip-sync sham might be exposed, they shared the same house, the same planes, the same car and sometimes even the same hotel suite during tours.
But in June, Morvan moved out and rented his own apartment.
"We're not Milli Vanilli any more," Morvan said. "We are Robert and Fabrice and although we are the best of friends, each of us has different interests."
Rebuilding smashed careers has proved to be a monumental task.
"We were so naive," Pilatus said. "We figured because we had sold so many albums as Milli Vanilli that all the record companies would be dying to sign us. After the scandal broke, we were sure that all these million-dollar offers would come pouring in. So we just went about our lives and waited."
But the big phone call never came. In fact, the phone stopped ringing altogether. By the time Pilatus and Morvan returned from a European talk-show tour in January, they began to get the picture.
Their agent quit. Their publicist disappeared. Close pals with whom they had partied for years also vanished. Even their girlfriends refused to return calls.
"It was a real shock," Pilatus said. "Nobody stood by us. People were laughing at us and we knew it was our fault. The scandal caused us a lot of pain, but I guess it made us face reality. It humbled us."
"It was like an earthquake had hit us," Morvan added. "Everything in our entire world came tumbling down. One day, you're rich and famous and you have all these friends. The next day, everything is destroyed and you're all alone."
The pair are not so alone anymore, at least business-wise. Last week, the duo signed a deal with Parker Public Relations, a Los Angeles-based firm that represents Arnold Schwarzenegger, with the hope of branching out into film and television.
While they have turned down job offers to appear on soap operas in Europe, Pilatus and Morvan have begun to study acting.
"I see this as a story of seduction," said Alliance's Michael Weisberg, an Emmy-winning producer who worked on the "Lonesome Dove" miniseries. "Two kids get seduced into a charade by the glamour and glitz of show biz when all of a sudden the train starts going faster than anyone expected and they don't know how to get off."
Last month, Morvan and Pilatus were also featured as animated characters in a bizarre episode of "The Super Mario Brothers" cartoon show in which an evil reptile sorceress punishes the flamboyant duo by turning them into a pair of yuppie accountants.
The venture into animation was the brainchild of their former manager Sandy Gallin and was created by DIC Enterprises before the lip-sync debacle. The series is in reruns on NBC at 7:30 a.m. Saturdays; the Milli Vanilli episode first aired in January and has been repeated several times in the last few months.
Several other scripts about the lip-sync scandal are also circulating around Hollywood, including one written by Todd Headlee, a member of the duo's former management team.
But Carsten Heyn, the duo's manager says Pilatus and Morvan are concentrating most of their energies on completing their yet-untitled album. Shrouded in secrecy, the recording project--financed to the tune of half a million dollars by an independent record label based in the Southwest--will be distributed by one of the nation's largest record distributors.
"Frankly, I started out pursuing these guys with the idea of capitalizing on the lip-sync scandal," said the president of the label, who requested anonymity. "When I heard them sing, I was truly surprised."
But by far, Pilatus and Morvan are getting the most exposure these days from their bubble-gum commercial. Officials at Planters LifeSavers Co., which makes Carefree, say the company viewed their Milli parody as a way to interest teens in their product.
"So many kids still identify with Rob and Fab," Planters spokesman Chuck Wallingston said in a phone interview from Planters headquarters in Winston-Salem, N.C. "We thought teens would approve of their ability to laugh at their own mistake in public. And frankly, the response has been overwhelmingly positive."
And so the comeback is underway. The duo starts each day running through singing exercises with vocal coach Seth Riggs, trainer for such pop stars as Michael Jackson and Stevie Wonder.
"This is a crucial period for us," Morvan said. "We are preparing to show our fans what we are truly made of."
Pilatus said he hopes that the duo will get a second shot so that they can prove their critics wrong.
"A lot of people think of us as losers," he said. "But we have always seen ourselves as winners. Not just marionettes. Real entertainers.
"Twenty years from now we want people to come out and see us sing and dance in Las Vegas. Like Sammy Davis Jr. Like Julio Iglesias. Like Tom Jones. I believe there is a big future for us. You haven't heard the last of Rob and Fab."