By Marisa Laudadio
December 13, 2010 12:00 PM

After enduring endless talk-show jokes, a class-action suit and even fans driving a steamroller over his band’s records, Milli Vanilli’s Fab Morvan could have turned his back on music forever. Yet in the 20 years since he and Rob Pilatus were stripped of their Best New Artist Grammy because they hadn’t sung a note on “Blame It on the Rain” or any of their hits, Morvan says he never lost hope. “When it all crumbled,” he says, “I promised myself to still go for my dream.”

So for years the Paris-born singer has been paying his dues, deejaying on L.A.’s KIIS-FM, teaching French and lecturing students about the music industry, while continuing to record. “It was difficult to rebuild my life with this stigma,” says Morvan, 44, who’s now working on dance-music project SMFM. “When you get beat down like that, you don’t want to trust anyone.”

Morvan admits he was young and naive when he and Pilatus, who were in a Munich cover band, caught the eye of producer Frank Farian in 1987. They inked a deal without lawyers, then were told to lip-synch to studio-singer vocals for one track. (“They were hired as dancers, not singers,” says Farian.) “We tried to get out of it, but we couldn’t pay the money back,” says Morvan. “We thought, ‘One song and we’re done.’ ” But “Girl You Know It’s True” shot to No. 1 and, he says, “they had us.” Over the next two years, they sold 7 million albums, spawned trends (spandex shorts, anyone?) and won a Grammy. “We had fun at first, but the pressure was huge,” he says. When the two demanded to sing live in 1990, Farian outed them. “After they wouldn’t follow instructions and wanted to sing-they couldn’t-we stopped the faking,” says Farian.

With their reputations ruined and little money saved (Farian earned most of Milli Vanilli’s royalties), Morvan says they “did an alphabet of drugs.” A new album as Rob & Fab in 1993 failed, and Pilatus died of a suspected overdose in 1998. “Rob didn’t have the strength to start over,” says Morvan, who got clean in 1991.

Soldiering on alone, Morvan, who is single and lives in Amsterdam and L.A., put out a neosoul album, Love Revolution, in 2003. And last month he returned to his club roots with SMFM’s first single, “Twisted.” He’s also been playing Milli Vanilli hits onstage-with his own live vocals. “In life, you want to walk with dignity,” he says. “I want ‘Milli Vanilli’ to mean when you fall, you stand up and go forward. And no one can take that away from you.”