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Mackenzie Phillips Had A 10-Year Intimate Relationship With Her Dad

Entertainment | November 10, 2019

Actress Mackenzie Phillips poses for a portrait session at home holding a bumper sticker that reads "One Day At A Time" on December 3, 1976 in LA, California. Source: (Photo by Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)

To everyone watching Mackenzie Phillips throughout the ‘70s and ’80s it seemed like she had it all. She appeared in American Graffiti and starred in the hit sitcom One Day At A Time, not to mention the fact that she was singing in The New Mamas and The Papas with her father John Phillips. Regardless of how well her career was going, she was harboring dark secrets in her personal life. Not only was she heavily addicted to drugs, but she claims that she was in a decade long incestuous relationship with her father. 

Their First Dalliance Occurred On The Night Before Her Wedding

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In 1979 the 19-year-old Phillips was set to marry Jeff Sessler, a member of the Rolling Stones’ entourage, but Phillips told Larry King that no one wanted that to happen. She says that her father, John, showed up at her hotel on the night before her wedding intent on stopping the union and that what followed is one of the bleakest and horrific things that can happen to someone.

In her memoir, High on Arrival, Phillips claims that she and her father got high and that she blacked out. When she came to she woke up with her father on top of her, mid-coitus. Phillips felt powerless and later told Larry King that she blacked out a minute or so later. When she woke up she didn’t speak to her father about the situation for months. 

They Continued Their Relationship For A Decade

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The only way that Phillips could explain what happened and why she continued her relationship with her father for 10 years is to describe it as a kind of Stockholm syndrome. When she initially confronted her father in his home in New York City about raping her he replied, "Raped you? Don't you mean we made love?" Phillips says that this was the moment she knew she was alone in the situation.

While speaking with Larry King, Phillips said that nothing happened between her and her father for years, but when they went on tour as the New Mamas and The Papas their incestuous relationship was back on. She said that they didn’t get together every day, but when they did the situation was always the same: They’d do drugs, perform, and each morning she’d wake up next to her father. Phillips said that her dad didn’t see the problem with the way he was acting, she told King:

My father lived in a world of his own creation, there’s a fine line between genius and insanity as we all know. He tried very hard to live a life of his choosing… I think that to him if sex happened between a father and a daughter and no one protested where’s the problem?

A Pregnancy Brought Things To An End

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There’s no way to know how long John and Mackenzie Phillips would have carried on had things not come to a deeply unsettling conclusion, but a decade after beginning their relationship Phillips was in her second marriage and still sleeping with her father when she found out that she was pregnant. With no way to know who was the father of the child, Phillips said that her father paid for her to have an abortion. This is when she said that she made a promise to herself that she’d never let her father touch her again. Not only did she quit speaking with her father but she stopped performing with the New Mamas and The Papas as well.

The Phillips Family Is Torn Over The Allegations

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It’s hard to hear that someone you know and love has hurt their child so deeply, especially when they’re an artist who’s made such beloved music. Grappling with a story like the one from Mackenzie Phillips isn’t easy, and her sisters and John’s wives are torn on what to think. Geneviève Waïte, who was John's wife at the time MacKenzie said the relationship started, said that Mackenzie’s version of John isn’t like the John she knows. Similarly, Michelle Phillips (John’s second wife) says that she has “every reason to believe [Mackenzie's account is] untrue.”

However, Mackenzie’s half-sister Chynna, of the band Wilson Phillips, believes that she’s telling the truth. She said:

Somebody could have dropped a piano on my head and I probably wouldn't have felt it. But I knew it was true. I mean, who in their right mind would make such a claim if it wasn't true?

Bijou, Mackenzie’s other half-sister doesn’t believe the story at all and blames Mackenzie for ruining her relationship with their father by telling her the story at such a young age. She explained:

When I was young my sister told me about this – it ruined my life and my relationship with my father. Up till that point, I was a normal kid. I got good grades, loved my horse, was pretty innocent. I moved out to NYC at 13. Started doing drugs, did not talk to my Dad anymore… I was deeply f**ked up. I’m 29 now, I’ve talked to everyone who was around during that time, I’ve asked the hard questions. I do not believe my sister. Our father is many things, this is not one of them. My dad and I made up when I was 20, a year before he died. I’m sad I lost those years with him, and I lost those years at home.

People Outside Of The Family Were Aware

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To further confuse this already strange and heartbreaking story, supposedly multiple people outside of the Phillips family were aware of what was happening. Jessica Woods, daughter of Denny Doherty from the original Mamas and The Papas, said that her father was aware of “the awful truth” about what was happening between John and Mackenzie and that he was horrified.

While speaking with Oprah, Mackenzie said that she’s not surprised that other people knew what was happening between her and her father but that she didn’t want to bring them into the fray or to put a burden on their shoulders. She explained:

It was absolutely known by other people, but I'm telling my story. So for me to put other people on the spot to have to comment on this, it's not fair. I can count on two hands the people that could corroborate my story. But put more people in the line of fire? No.

Tags: John Phillips | Mackenzie Phillips

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Jacob Shelton


Jacob Shelton is a Los Angeles based writer. For some reason this was the most difficult thing he’s written all day, and here’s the kicker – his girlfriend wrote the funny part of that last sentence. As for the rest of the bio? That’s pure Jacob, baby. He’s obsessed with the ways in which singular, transgressive acts have shaped the broader strokes of history, and he believes in alternate dimensions, which means that he’s great at a dinner party. When he’s not writing about culture, pop or otherwise, he’s adding to his found photograph collection and eavesdropping on strangers in public.