Lou Pearlman, the Svengali behind the Backstreet Boys and *NSYNC, has died at the age of 62. Despite being the brainchild behind the biggest boy bands of the '90s, the reaction to his passing has been all over the place. According to Billboard, Pearlman passed away in a Miami prison from an undisclosed ailment. He was serving a 25-year sentence after being convicted of of running a half-billion-dollar Ponzi scheme in 2008. Earlier, in 2006, investigators found that he had cheated investors out of at least $300 million and was found guilty of conspiracy, money laundering, and making false statements during a bankruptcy proceeding. Pearlman, who suffered a stroke in 2010, built his Orlando-based Trans Continental Entertainment empire on the backs of '90s boy bands such as BSB, *NSYNC, O-Town, and LFO. He was later sued by almost every single one of these acts for misrepresentation and fraud. It's why the reactions to Pearlman's death have been mixed, something *NSYNC's Chris Kirkpatrick said outright after hearing the news: "Mixed emotions right now, but RIP Lou Pearlman." Justin Timberlake tweeted, "I hope he found some peace. God bless and RIP, Lou Pearlman."
*NSYNC's Lance Bass had more to say on the matter. "Word is that #LouPearlman has passed away. He might not have been a stand up businessman," Bass tweeted. "But I wouldn't be doing what I love today wout his influence. RIP Lou." In 2014, The Hollywood Reporter found that Pearlman had cheated band members out of more than $300,000 each while he walked away with tens of millions. Bass told the magazine that in the early days of *NSYNC, he was only being paid $35 per day. "After three years of doing this, having a No. 1 album, being the biggest band in the world," Bass said, "we weren't seeing any paychecks." Bass first met Pearlman in 1995, when he was just 14, and told THR he couldn't help but love the then-41-year-old impresario. "I immediately just really fell in love with Lou," Bass said. "He was such a nice guy and fun to talk to. He immediately became family — he was our 'Papa Lou.'" But Bass also says he remembers being warned to keep his distance. "We would hear things, for sure," Bass said, telling a story of how Pearlman always had "young boy limo drivers" for the record label that would always end up in one of the bands he was managing. "Then, I'd hear rumors that he would molest the boys before they would even get into the groups. I don't know how much of that is true, but to me, where there's smoke, there's fire." A 2007, a Vanity Fair exposé, called "Mad About The Boys," focused on allegations of abuse at the hands of Pearlman, but contained no first-person accounts from band members. It did include quotes from Abercrombie & Fitch employee-turned-personal-assistant Steve Mooney, who alleged that Pearlman once propositioned him and implied that sexual favors would land him a spot in a band. "There was one guy in every band," Mooney told Vanity Fair. "One sacrifice...who takes it for Lou." Bass told The Hollywood Reporter in 2014 that Pearlman had a habit of "manhandling" his boy bands, something LFO singer Rich Cronin also told Vanity Fair, but that he never crossed the line with him. Pearlman was never convicted of sexual misconduct.
The fact that the man who was supposed to protect these young men ended up betraying them is what makes his death bittersweet. Backstreet's A.J. McLean seemed to get at that with his tweet that didn't ignore Pearlman's flaws, but appreciated him for what he did right. "Many emotions at the news of Lou's passing," McLean wrote. "Without Lou I wouldn't have met my four brothers or had the opportunity of a lifetime. RIP."