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Milli Vanilli Member Saved From Suicide : Rescue: Sheriff’s deputies and newspaper phone operator come to aid of a distraught Robert Pilatus. He is part of duo involved in lip-syncing hoax over hit album.

TIMES STAFF WRITERS

A member of the disgraced pop music duo Milli Vanilli slashed his wrist, gulped prescription pills and then dangled from a ninth-floor hotel balcony Saturday before a Times switchboard operator and sheriff’s deputies teamed up to save his life, authorities said.

Lip-sync artist Robert Pilatus complained of continuing humiliation stemming from the well-publicized musical hoax before climbing over a balcony railing outside his $225-per-night suite at the Mondrian Hotel on the Sunset Strip.

“They’ve harassed my family. . . . I’ve had enough,” Pilatus told the newspaper operator. “I didn’t want to hurt anyone. . . . I just wanted a little recognition.”

Pilatus was rescued by Los Angeles County sheriff’s deputies sent to the scene by the newspaper. Deputies grabbed Pilatus after luring him inside to answer a call they had placed to his phone.

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Pilatus, 27, was taken to Cedars-Sinai Medical Center and placed under 72-hour observation after the 5:15 a.m. incident, deputies said. Because of the nature of the case, hospital officials said they could not comment on Pilatus’ condition. However, a friend who said he visited the performer Saturday afternoon described him as “fine.”

Deputies said they found a bottle of doxepin HCl, an antidepressant and anti-anxiety prescription drug, in Pilatus’ suite. Although they said the performer had talked of cocaine, none was found. They said Pilatus slashed his left wrist, although no blood was visible in his hotel room several hours later.

“He was grateful. He kept saying, ‘Thank you, thank you for saving my life,’ ” said Deputy Robert Kennessey, one of four deputies who rushed across the balcony from an adjoining suite to rescue Pilatus.

Saturday’s apparent suicide attempt came nearly a year after Pilatus and partner Fabrice Morvan were exposed as lip-syncing frauds who had not sung a note on the 10-million-selling Milli Vanilli album, “Girl You Know It’s True.”

After admitting to the sham, the pair was stripped of their best new artist Grammy award they had received in February, 1990. Humiliated, Pilatus and Morvan underwent individual counseling for bouts of depression this year.

However, the pair recently seemed to be making strides toward turning their lives and careers around, according to friends who were stunned by Saturday’s incident.

Although Morvan could not be reached for comment, others said Pilatus has been taking singing and acting lessons for the past six months and had returned to Los Angeles last Monday after spending four weeks in Reno with Morvan recording a album.

“Robert seemed so gung-ho about getting the album out,” said Robert Forman, president of TAJ Records. “Things with the album have been going great. Robert and Fabrice were very enthusiastic about their new music.”

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Pilatus and Morvan had been scheduled to start production in May on a movie based on their lives, according to Carsten Heyn, the duo’s manager.

Heyn said Pilatus spent Friday with friends by the ocean at Venice Beach and appeared “upbeat and happy” at 1 a.m. Saturday, when the two shared a table at Spago. Heyn speculated that Pilatus “may have been getting depressed about the holidays. . . . He was feeling low about family things.”

Pilatus’ rescue four hours later was a close call, sheriff’s deputies said.

“He was hanging over the railing, his feet dangling,” said Sgt. James Mortensen, who watched from the hotel’s interior courtyard as other deputies struggled unsuccessfully to use a passkey to unlock Room 910. Hotel officials said Pilatus had checked in alone on Tuesday.

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“I thought: ‘This is it,’ ” Mortensen said. Using a walkie-talkie, he radioed other deputies to call Pilatus’ room, figuring that the ringing phone might lure him back inside.

“He’d called the L.A. Times. He obviously wanted to talk,” Mortensen said.

The drama began about 4:55 a.m. when Pilatus called The Times to ask to speak to a reporter. Switchboard operator Jerry Wing asked him to call back in 10 minutes because the lone reporter on duty was away from his desk.

“He said: ‘Please, please, this is an emergency. I’ve taken pills. I’m committing suicide,’ ” said Wing.

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“He said: ‘It’s the only way out for me. They’ve harassed me and my family in Germany and I’ve had enough. . . . It’s the only way.’ ”

Wing said Pilatus told her he called because he had written a letter and hidden it in the hotel suite and wanted to make certain that it was found so people would “understand what I did.” He also spoke of distributing money to a sister and his partner.

“He blamed somebody for what had happened. But I cannot recall the name for the life of me,” Wing said.

Wing--who has handled numerous distraught callers during her 20 years as The Times’ overnight operator--asked him to tell her where he was. Pilatus was “drifting in and out,” but was able to tell her the room number and street. But he mumbled the name of the hotel, she said.

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When Pilatus hung up, Wing called a Pacific Bell operator who correctly guessed that the hotel was the Mondrian. Wing then notified Times reporter Nieson Himmel, who contacted the Sheriff’s Department’s West Hollywood station.

Deputies found the note that Pilatus scrawled on both sides of two sheets of hotel stationery. But it “kind of rambled on,” Kennessey said. “We really couldn’t figure it out.”

The son of a German mother and American soldier, Pilatus was adopted by a German couple. Raised in a housing project, he first entered the limelight as a sharp-dressing break-dancer who frequented the Munich club and fashion show circuit.

He teamed up with Morvan after meeting him in 1984 during a visit to Los Angeles. The pair worked as background singers in Munich and adopted the name Milli Vanilli--which they said means “positive energy” in Turkish.

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Although they recorded a poor-selling album for a small German label, they teamed up with producer Frank Farian in early 1988 to front for the tune “Girl You Know It’s True,” which had been recorded by anonymous studio singers.

Although skeptics had earlier accused the photogenic duo of faking the singing during concert tours, the hoax unraveled in mid-November, 1990, when Pilatus admitted to the ruse.

“The last two years of our lives have been a total nightmare. We’ve had to lie to everybody,” he told The Times last year.


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