...came to an abrupt end when lip-synchers Rob Pilatus and Fab Morvan came clean.

It might’ve gone okay if they hadn’t sung. On Nov. 14, 1990, producer Frank Farian announced that Rob Pilatus and Fabrice ”Fab” Morvan — yes, Milli Vanilli — hadn’t voiced a note on their 7-million-plus-selling debut album, Girl You Know It’s True. A week later, the European duo called a press conference in L.A. to confess, portraying themselves as young musicians victimized by ruthless handlers, specifically Farian and U.S. label Arista, who allegedly used them for financial gain and left them to suffer the worst of the consequences (Arista denied any knowledge of the hoax). They even presented a video of themselves performing — for real, this time. Then they sang.

Goaded on by an angry press corps, they brutalized their smash single ”Girl You Know It’s True” for 15 painful seconds. ”It was weird to see people be so angry,” says Morvan, now 33 years old, of the conference. ”It really felt like there was a horde of wolves that was coming after us.”

Within days of the announcement, they were forced to return their 1989 Grammy for Best New Artist, and Arista offered refunds to disgruntled record buyers. And while Arsenio and Jay made jokes at their expense, Rob and Fab struggled to cope with life after Milli Vanilli. ”I stayed home a lot,” Morvan says of the following year. ”Every time I went out, I felt like people were watching me, and I didn’t know if they were laughing or not.”

After years of quiet ridicule, the Milli Vanilli story was documented in VH1’s premier installment of Behind the Music in 1997. The episode, still one of the series’ most popular, showed Fab and Rob’s side of the story, and left many viewers sympathetic to the pair.

”The response to that episode was tremendous,” says Gay Rosenthal, executive producer of Behind the Music. ”It’s a classic story: These were two kids who wanted to make it big and had the opportunity. Who wouldn’t go for that?”

In the years after the scandal broke, Morvan says Pilatus struggled to adapt to life without fame and fortune: ”I always knew it would explode in our faces and become public. Rob, on the other hand, thought it would never end. And when the train stopped, it was time to get off, but it was a surprise to him.” On April 3, 1998, just as Behind the Music began to turn public opinion around, Rob Pilatus died at age 33 from a combination of alcohol and prescription pills in an apparent suicide.

Meanwhile, Morvan continued to work at resuscitating his music career. Embracing his dubious fame, he recently completed a karaoke ”Shower-palooza” tour, sponsored by Malibu rum, and he has an album titled Love Revolution that he’s shopping around to labels. ”In life, you fall, you stand back up, and you learn from your experiences,” he says. Lesson No. 1: Don’t sing at press conferences.