I was shocked and saddened to hear yesterday that Rich Cronin had passed away. Just 35 years old, he was best known as the lead singer of the late '90s/early '00s boy band LFO whose song "Summer Girls" (the "I like girls who wear Abercrombie & Fitch" summer anthem) was ubiquitous in 1999. They weren't exactly a one-hit wonder—"Girl On TV" went Top 10 (it was about Rich's then-love Jennifer Love Hewitt) and their self-titled album went platinum. Nowadays, even artists like Rihanna have to wonder if they'll go platinum.
I knew Rich personally, though not well. I worked with him quite a few times for the teen mag I edit, including giving LFO their first major profile in the U.S., back when they were still called the "Lyte Funkie Ones" (this was a reference to their blue-eyed soulfulness). Back then, they had been releasing cheesetastic songs in Europe—including my personal favorite and one they probably despised called "Sex U Up (The Way You Like It)"—and had just reworked Yvonne Elliman's "If I Can't Have You" into "Can't Have You," a U.S. dance hit that almost went Top 40.
I found him to be a very creative person, almost like his mind was going in lots of different directions at once. It's hard to write a song that hits as big as "Summer Girls," even if it seems like fluff; if it were not a skill, more people would do it. He was proud of that achievement and never, from what I've been able to observe, stopped trying to create more feel-good music that would affect people.
I remember for LFO's cover shoot (us together, pictured), Rich was moody and distracted. I don't think he enjoyed that aspect of his job; he was more comfortable on the phone or writing. But even moody and distracted, he was never a rude guy or dismissive. His nickname, after all, was "Rich Nice." (The meanest he's been was a decade after his peak when he was going OFF on Lou Pearlman to Howard Stern, which was richly deserved and which carefully avoided homophobia: Part 1, Part 2, Part 3, Part 4, Part 5 ...and yes, I feel terrible thinking all that we feared was going on was going on and on and on.)
Another memory: Early in my magazine's history, when we were trying desperately to build it, a group of employees trekked out to a radio show held on the beach in Jersey. LFO headlined, and it was pandemonium! It was a lot of fun being so close to the madness. We sold a lot of magazines that day, and LFO put on a great show. They really were an ideal summer group:
Scott Teitler took the best picture of Rich that I can remember, a movie-star handsome shot (can't find it) in which he is a gleaming blond heartthrob. Very Troy Donahue! And Anthony Cutajar must have taken thousands of great pictures of Rich made all the better by the fact that the guys were so comfortable being documented by him.
Visit Rich's leukemia foundation here
Later on, after the group had disbanded, I heard Rich had been feeling ill and went to the hospital, only to discover he had advanced leukemia. He was only about 30 at the time, and I guess he was able to fend it off and recover to an extent. He sent me a couple of friendly shout-outs over the years, including this one (I don't think he'd mind me sharing it; it wasn't anything revealing):
And within the past couple of months, I think I remember him commenting my Facebook with no ulterior motive other than just catching up.
I think this kind of thing is a wake-up call to people to be grateful for your good health if you have it, never to take it for granted and to think long and hard if what you're doing is going to be enough when your time is up—Rich achieved quite a few dreams before he became ill, and that makes his ridiculously early passing at least a little less sad.