Six years ago Rich Cronin was living the life. The Boston native — one-third of now-defunct boy band LFO — was riding the success of the group's quirky pop hit "Summer Girls," which spoke of his love for Abercrombie & Fitch-wearing females. The single turned LFO into overnight sensations, scoring them a platinum album, a deal with Clive Davis' Arista Records and rabid teenage fans.
But despite his newfound lavish lifestyle — Cronin even dated actress Jennifer Love Hewitt for two years — he felt unfulfilled. "I thought life was never good enough," he said. "Even though LFO was selling millions of records and I was dating a movie star, I always wanted more. Now I look back and think, what was there to be depressed about? It's ridiculous."
Three words forced a radical shift in the singer's perspective: acute myelogenous leukemia. The singer was diagnosed with leukemia in March 2005 (see "LFO Singer Rich Cronin Hospitalized With Leukemia") and was checked into a nearby hospital at the beginning of April, at which point he was immediately given a critical blood transfusion. "I had a lot of strain on my heart, so the first thing they gave me was new blood, and that made such a difference," he said.
Now in remission, the singer has launched the Rich Cronin Hope Foundation to raise awareness about the deadly disease, making it his mission to educate people about the need for donating blood, and even more so, bone marrow. Fortunately the singer never had to undergo a bone-marrow transplant ("Hopefully, I never do," he adds), but he continues to stress the ongoing need for those types of donations. "If people hadn't donated blood, that would be horrible because I needed it immediately," Cronin said. "And while donating bone marrow is a much bigger undertaking, it's worth the effort because there is no doubt that you will help save someone's life."
The singer, who finished his last round of chemo in August, says he's starting to feel like his old self again. His blond locks, which he shaved off before starting therapy, have grown back. And he's returned to his fighting weight of 190 pounds, up from his lowest of 177.
He still has check-ups with his doctor once or twice a month to monitor his progress, but that's much lighter than his previous routine, when he had to go in nearly every other day. Cronin says all he can do now is wait and pray the disease doesn't return.
"At times it feels like you have a gun pointed to your head and you ask yourself, 'Is someone going to pull the trigger today?' " he said. "It's the fear of the unknown, because once you have the disease in your system, you wonder if your body is going to mess up again — but you just need to have faith it won't."
Cronin calls the outpouring of love and support he's received since — from old high school teachers, Cheap Trick's Rick Nielsen, ex-Boston Red Sox star Johnny Damon, ex-flame Hewitt and even former WWF wrestler Hulk Hogan (Cronin helped produce music for his daughter Brooke) — overwhelming, and at times, even surprising.
"When you're in the music business, you tend to see a really bad side to people, but this experience has really shown me the good, so it's been very eye-opening," he said. "I really hadn't been doing anything since 2002, and then all of a sudden people were reaching out. It's amazing how powerful it's been."
Meanwhile, Cronin has been able to return to his first love — music — to help him take his mind off things. He is busy in Boston working on a solo album for Hydrogen Records; jump-starting his own record label, Orange Freeze, with his younger brother Mike; and forming the quirky side project Loose Cannons, a rap duo with former Bad Ronald MC Doug Ray. Their tongue-in-cheek satirical songs, like "Life Goes On," have the two poking fun at everything, including Cronin's former boy-band stint.
But while Beantown isn't exactly a musical epicenter, Cronin says the most important thing for him right now is to stay close to his friends and family.
"I don't expect to be a huge music star [again]," he said. "I would be happy if enough people appreciate what I do and I can be onstage doing what I love. That's more important to me now than being on 'TRL.' I want to put out music that I'm proud of, that can also touch people to an extent.
"Right now, I just want to be by my family. They've all been so amazing and have stuck by me every step of the way," Cronin continued. "I know I still have a long way to go, but I feel good getting up every day and I'm really appreciating life. ... The thing I tell people now is if you're healthy, you have nothing to worry about. I look at life in a really basic way now: If you don't have your health, you don't have anything, because once you get sick, you realize that is everything."