Rich Cronin, former frontman of '90s boy band LFO, passed away today of leukemia. He was 35.
I found about this a little more than an hour ago, and I'm not sure how to adequately process it. First there were the superficial thoughts: He was one of my first crushes as a sexually confused 12 year olds! With his biceps and golden skin, there was something a bit more mature about Rich than the Backstreet Boys or 'N Syncers (the only one I crushed on was Brian Littrell, really, and Trevor from "Soul Decision" would have likely given me wet dreams had I not been on Zoloft).
Then there were the random memories I have, since my brain is a hodgepodge of pop culture where things like algebra and American history should be. Maybe five, six years ago I randomly perused his website (it's no longer available). This was long after the boy band boom, and all the rage were the "emo" bands or hip-hop acts. Cronin's website seemed to reveal someone hopeful yet sad about the life of fame that had passed him by. He posted links to his poetry, and I'll never forget reading the line "I used to be friends with Justin Timberlake." Out of contest it sounds trite, but there was something beneath that: Like Rich, JT was a former boy-band standout, but had survived that category to move on to an upper echelon of fame. It may have been like in high school when your best friend promises you that contact will always be had, and then she goes off to Harvard and you only see her over holidays, if that.
But what most jarred my memories of Rich Cronin was this 2007 Vanity Fair article about boy band founder/convincted felon/sexual predator Lou Pearlman, who managed the Backstreet Boys and 'N Sync to great fame, along with a slew of side projects that included LFO. Of all these bands, only one of them had a member willing to speak on record about Perlman, and that man was Cronin.
That was the line, the 'aura,' I definitely heard that aura bullshit," says Rich Cronin, lead singer of the Pearlman band LFO. "It took everything in me not to laugh. He was like, 'I know some mystical fricking ancient massage technique that if I massage you and we bond in a certain way, through these special massages, it will strengthen your aura to the point you are irresistible to people.'
"I swear to God," Cronin goes on, "I had to bite my cheeks to stop from laughing. I mean, I now know what it's like to be a chick.… He was so touchy-feely, always grabbing your shoulders, touching you, rubbing your abs. It was so obvious and disgusting.… He definitely came at people. He came at me. In my situation I avoided him like the plague. If I went to his house, I went with somebody. I would never go with him alone. Because I knew every time I was over there by myself it always led to some weird situation. Like he'd call late at night to come over and talk about a tour, and you'd get there and he'd be sitting there in boxers. The guy was hairy as a bear."
By no means was Cronin's only legacy to the world as someone who spoke out on the abhorrent behavior of Lou Perlman, but it does give pause that, out of the 18 popular boy band members that Perlman managed, he was the only one to speak on the record.
Lastly, Cronin's death -- to me as a Generation Y member -- is one of those things when you realize your own possible mortality. Not only is 35 far too young to die, but it is only 11 years older than my own age. "Summer Girls" may have been silly, but it was also unforgettable in its catchiness; my sophomore year of college, I would routinely sing it with my lacrosse-playing, infinitely masculine roommate.
I don't know the inner secrets of Cronin's life; I can only hope his was a happy one. I can only hope that leukemia research continues so that no one has to die of it, especially a man of only three and a half decades. And I can only hope that we can all still think it's fly when girls stop by for the summer...for the summer.