top of page

Happy 30th Anniversary to The Milli Vanilli Deception

Milli Vanilli

November 14, 2018 | by James Greene, Jr.

All or Nothing, the debut disc from Munich-based pop group Milli Vanilli, was released in Europe on this day in 1988. It is, as we all know, the cornerstone in one of music's most embarrassing scandals. Rob Pilatus and Fab Morvan (above, L-R), the striking young pair on All or Nothing's cover, didn't so much as breathe on the album. The actual performers — Charles Shaw, Brad Howell, John Davis, Jodie Rocco, and Linda Rocco — were hidden away by Milli Vanilli mastermind Frank Farian, who was angling for maximum visual sex appeal to help sell these snappy synthetic R&B confections.

Arista picked up All or Nothing for the U.S. market, releasing a resequenced version under the title Girl You Know It's True in March 1989. Singles "Blame It on the Rain" and "Baby Don't Forget My Number" both soared to number one on the Billboard Hot 100 and quickly turned Milli Vanilli into a household name. Alas, this deception wasn't built to last. Pilatus and Morvan, who would later claim they were blackmailed into lip synching by Farian, met their first Waterloo that July during a gig in Connecticut when their pre-recorded tracks began skipping. Six months later, Charles Shaw revealed to the press that he, Howell, Davis, et al were the true Milli Vanilli.

Incredibly, Pilatus and Morvan still managed to collect three American Music Awards in January of 1990 and a Grammy for Best New Artist the following month. Why would anyone that attractive lie? we concluded. An entire year nearly passed before Farian admitted in November that the two figures the world knew as Milli Vanilli didn't perform on their acclaimed album. The Grammy was returned, though Farian refused to part with the American Music Award statuettes.

As myriad lawsuits broke out, several of the actual Milli Vanilli singers recorded The Moment of Truth, released in 1991 under the moniker The Real Milli Vanilli. Two years later, Pilatus and Morvan sang for the very first time on their disc Rob & Fab. The lead single "We Can Get it On" ignited no critical or commercial fires; the thin, barely in tune vocals prevent the track from rising above unintentional parody.

Comedians had a field day with this scandal, but it only grew sadder for Pilatus and Morvan. They were on the outs with each other following the collapse of Rob & Fab; Pilatus developed a drug problem and ran afoul of the law, doing a three month prison stint for assault, vandalism, and attempted robbery. On April 3, 1998, just as he and Morvan were planning the release of another Rob & Fab album, Pilatus was found dead of an accidental overdose just outside Frankfurt. The new album, Back and in Attack, was shelved indefinitely.

Morvan and Farian have both continued in music but haven't come close to the lofty heights they experienced with the Milli Vanilli chicanery. In 2014, Oprah featured the real Milli Vanilli performers on an episode of "Where Are They Now?" for her OWN Network. "We were actually forbidden to talk to [Pilatus and Morvan]," Jodie Rocco explained, "Because the producer, the manager, and the record company were all terrified that somebody might slip."

"You have two sides," Charles Shaw told Oprah. "On the one side, you feel good... 'My voice that made it, number one, worldwide.' But you're still sittin' in the back, saying, 'That's not what I really wanted.'"

A cautionary tale for all aspiring singers — if the guy who produced Meatloaf's Blind Before I Stop offers you a shitload of money, run in the other direction.

Weekly Stuff


bottom of page