The First And Only Grammy Award Ever To Be Revoked Was Awarded In 1990

When the German-French R&B duo Milli Vanilli won a Grammy Award for best new artist on February 21, 1990, it was a dream come true (per Entertainment Weekly). In just a few years time, Rob Pilatus and Fabrice Morvan went from two men living in poverty in Munich, Germany to superstardom thanks to the release of their 1989 album, "Girl You Know It's True." The record was filled with hit singles that reached the Top 5 of the Billboard Hot 100 (including three at No.1): the title track "Girl You Know It's True," "Baby Don't Forget My Number," "Girl I'm Gonna Miss You," "Blame It on The Rain," and "All or Nothing."

But how did the two, known among their fans as Rob & Fab, go from virtually no significant musical track record to such hits? The pair chalked it up mostly to a bond and chemistry from their similar experiences of living in European cities where they didn't see many others who looked like them. "Something clicked between us," Pilatus told the Los Angeles Times. "Maybe it's because we're both Black people who grew up in foreign cities that don't have too many Blacks."

However, as it turned out, a number of things just didn't match up. Less than a year after Milli Vanilli appeared on national television to accept their Grammy Award — and perform on stage — things fell apart for the two, resulting in the first time in the then-31-year history of the Grammys that an award was revoked.

Milli Vanilli's live shows were a little too good

As the 1980s came to a close, Milli Vanilli quickly became one of the most popular acts of the time. The duo known for their pitch-perfect performances and synchronized dance routines made them one of the most sought-after acts for television and live events. However, per Biography, some started to raise their eyebrows in July 1989 during a performance at a theme park called Lake Compounce in Bristol, Connecticut. It was part of the Club MTV Tour that included Paula Abdul and Tone Loc, which drew in 80,000 people, plus it was televised live on the channel. The group took the stage like they had been accustomed to doing — with their high-energy dance steps as the music began.

Everything seemed the same as Rob & Fab had done so many times before. Then, it was time for the famous chorus to their number one single, "Girl You Know It's True." Except those lyrics just kept repeating. They continued to dance and pretend to sing for a few more moments before booking it offstage. "I knew right then and there, it was the beginning of the end for Milli Vanilli," Rob Pilatus later told the Los Angeles Times. "When my voice got stuck in the computer and it just kept repeating and repeating, I panicked. I just ran off the stage." But it wasn't his voice. And it would be more than a year before the panic stopped. 

Living with lip-syncing stress

The Club MTV embarrassment did get a significant amount of attention in the press, but lip syncing live performances was hardly a Milli Vanilli invention. Artists with longer track records and greater reputations have given lip synched performances before. For the time being, people seemed to be willing to look the other way, even if they kept a cautious eye out on what Milli Vanilli would do in the future. However, in December 1989, doubt turned to outrage when another bit of news came along — American singer Charles Shaw revealed he was one of the three true vocalists who recorded the Milli Vanilli tracks, according to Entertainment Weekly. If that wasn't enough, the record's producer, Frank Farian, reportedly paid Shaw $150,000 to retract his claims.

For his part, with his back against the wall, Farian outed the pair during a press conference on November 14, 1990 (per People). He revealed that neither Rob Pilatus nor Fabrice Morvan performed any vocals on the hit record — all of the work had been done by others. Farian said he hired them as handsome faces to appear in videos in which they would lip-sync songs he'd already recorded with studio musicians. The entire episode had taken its toll on the pair. "The last two years of our lives have been a total nightmare," Pilatus told the Los Angeles Times. "We've had to lie to everybody. We are true singers but that maniac Frank Farian would never allow us to express ourselves."

The only revoked Grammy

In a matter of days following Frank Farian's press conference, Rob Pilatus and Fabrice Morvan (above with Farian) were forced to return their Grammy Award. The trustees of the National Academy of Recording Arts & Sciences voted to revoke the award given to Milli Vanilli. "The academy hopes its action sends a clear signal to producers, music packagers, and record companies that they need to take very seriously their task of giving us and the public credible information on that packaging," academy President Michael Greene told the AP at the time, adding, "I do think it's an isolated incident. We are as upset about it as the public has the right to be."

According to Variety, Greene said he agreed to Milli Vanilli's request to lip sync their performance at the Grammy's that year because they had done so a few years earlier with Janet Jackson and because, "They were so hot at the time, we went along. But they were good at it — even I thought they were singing." The attorney for Pilatus and Morvan said the duo had already planned on returning the award before the academy demanded the return. "My guess is when the academy read that, they decided to beat us to the game," attorney Alan Mintz said, per the AP. "Needless to say, this is an emotionally trying time. But [Pilatus and Morvan] are determined to prove to the world that they will come back strongly and demonstrate that they are indeed artists."

The recording industry tries to cover itself

The Milli Vanilli episode was a bad look for the music industry, which had suffered a number of similar incidents at that time. Arista Records, which distributed "Girl You Know It's True," pulled the album from its catalog. However, even the company's top brass struggled with how to balance the bad deeds with the high performance of the record. "Seven million albums?" said Arista's executive vice president Roy Lott, per the AP. "Embarrassing, I don't mean the end justifies the means, but we sold 7 million albums." Lott also said Arista had no knowledge of sham, but Rob Pilatus and Fabrice Morvan claimed the company knew all along.

In 1993, Pilatus and Morvan recorded a new album under the name Rob & Fab, but it didn't rack up any sort of chart success. For Pilatus, the inability to shake the ongoing effects of the scandal led to years of substance abuse, violent acts that landed him in jail, and multiple suicide attempts, according to the Los Angeles Times. On April 3, 1998, just as he was preparing for a promotional tour for a new Milli Vanilli album in which the duo performed all the main vocals, Pilatus was found dead in his hotel in Germany of a suspected alcohol and drug overdose. He was 32. "Rob didn't have the strength to start over," Morvan told People in 2010, adding, "I want 'Milli Vanilli' to mean when you fall, you stand up and go forward."

If you or anyone you know is having suicidal thoughts, please call the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline​ by dialing 988 or by calling 1-800-273-TALK (8255)​.

If you or anyone you know needs help with addiction issues, help is available. Visit the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration website or contact SAMHSA's National Helpline at 1-800-662-HELP (4357).