Robert Pilatus (8 June 1965 – 3 April 1998) was a German model, dancer, and singer. Pilatus was a member of the pop music duo Milli Vanilli, alongside Fabrice Morvan.
Robert Pilatus was born in New York City, the son of an African-American soldier and German mother. He spent the first four years of his life in a Bavarian orphanage before he was adopted by a Munich family. Pilatus mentioned he was an outsider as a child in Germany, being called "Kunta Kinte" by his classmates (the African hero in the film Roots). After leaving his adoptive home as a teenager, Pilatus worked as a model and breakdancer, also appearing as a backing singer with the group Wind at the 1987 Eurovision Song Contest in Brussels. The band finished in second place. Pilatus met Fabrice Morvan on the dance scene in Munich in 1988, and after working as models they decided to form the pop group Milli Vanilli.
Pilatus and Morvan both wanted to move into music and were subsequently noticed by German music producer Frank Farian, who signed them to be part of a musical act. They signed contracts with Farian without taking legal advice. Shortly after a trip to Turkey, where the duo reputedly took part of their name from a local advertising slogan, Milli Vanilli was born. Pilatus and Morvan were surprised to learn from Farian that they would not be singing on their records. Pilatus and Morvan initially refused but were unable to pay back the advance they had received, which they had used to change and promote their image by investing in clothes and getting their trademark hair extensions. They decided to continue with the agreement for a short time until they had made enough money to pay the advance back. This meant that they were only to be the public faces for songs that had already been pre-recorded with singers Charles Shaw and Brad Howell, who Farian thought were vocally talented, but lacked a marketable image. Farian had a history of acts, such as Boney M where songs were not performed by the original singers,
The first Milli Vanilli platinum album, Girl You Know It's True, became a worldwide hit. The album produced five hit singles including three number 1 hits: "Girl I'm Gonna Miss You", "Baby Don't Forget My Number" and "Blame It On The Rain". Milli Vanilli won the Grammy Award for Best New Artist on 21 February 1990, for Girl You Know It's True.
Milli Vanilli had enormous success and rose to fame and fortune in a very short time. This made it difficult for them to withdraw from the agreement with Farian. Their attractiveness and appealing dance performances added to their huge on-stage success. This success lasted several years, but over time, Pilatus and Morvan became the subject of rumours of onstage lip-synching. Charles Shaw, one of the actual vocalists, told the media the truth, but retracted his statement after Farian paid him $150,000.
When Pilatus and Morvan pressured Farian to let them sing on the next album, Farian confessed to reporters on 15 November 1990 that the duo had not sung on the recordings. Milli Vanilli's Grammy Award was withdrawn four days later. Pilatus and Morvan said in an interview that they did the moral thing by initiating the withdrawal of the Grammy Award themselves. Arista Records released them from its label and removed their album and songs from their catalogue, making Girl You Know It's True the largest-selling album to be taken out of print. A United States court ruling allowed anyone who had bought the album to receive a refund.
Farian later attempted a comeback for the duo, but it was unsuccessful. Pilatus and Morvan decided to spend time apart to get their lives back on track. Months after the media backlash, Pilatus and Morvan appeared in a commercial for Carefree sugarless chewing gum where they jokingly lip-synched to an opera recording.
In 1992, Pilatus and Morvan signed with a new label, Taj, and released Rob & Fab, an album featuring their own voices, but the album only sold around 2,000 copies due to its limited release. The label went bankrupt shortly thereafter.
In the years following Milli Vanilli's downfall, Pilatus struggled with substance abuse and suicide attempts as a result of not being able to cope with the negative media attention and the impact this had on his adoptive family. After the duo attempted a comeback, Morvan and Pilatus spent time apart. In 1996, Pilatus served three months in prison for assault, vandalism and attempted robbery. Farian paid for Pilatus to spend six months in drug rehabilitation before returning to Germany from the United States.
On 3 April 1998, on the eve of a promotional tour for a new Milli Vanilli album, Back and in Attack, featuring Pilatus and Morvan on lead vocals, Pilatus was found dead from a suspected alcohol and prescription pill overdose in "Kent's Cube" in Friedrichsdorf, near Frankfurt. His sudden death was ruled accidental. The album has never been released.
Pilatus was survived by his son, John, and his sister, Carmen. He is buried in the Munich Waldfriedhof.
- All or Nothing (1988)
- All or Nothing (1989)
- Girl You Know It's True (1989)
- The Remix Album (1990)
- Back and in Attack (1998; unreleased)
- Greatest Hits (2006)
- Girl You Know It's True – The Best Of Milli Vanilli (2013)
Rob and Fab
- Rob & Fab (1993)