Mackenzie Phillips Was The Daughter Of John Phillips — And The Alleged Victim Of His Sexual Abuse

Published March 23, 2024

For 10 years, The Mamas & The Papas guitarist John Phillips allegedly had an incestuous relationship with his daughter Mackenzie Phillips.

Mackenzie Phillips

ZUMA Press, Inc./Alamy Stock PhotoAccording to Mackenzie Phillips, she hid a dark secret about her father John Phillips for years.

During the 1960s, John Phillips was best known as the guitarist of the folk-rock band The Mamas & The Papas. For decades, he remained a legend in the music industry as a talented singer and songwriter. But then, in 2009, he became better known for something truly disturbing: an alleged incestuous relationship with his daughter Mackenzie Phillips.

In her memoir High on Arrival, Mackenzie chronicled her troubled past as a child star, her battle with drug addiction, and her father’s alleged sexual abuse — which she said eventually transformed into a “consensual relationship” that lasted 10 years. By the time the book was published, John had already died, so he wasn’t able to respond to Mackenzie’s claims, but the allegations prompted strong reactions from those who knew them.

John’s ex-wives have expressed skepticism and disbelief about Mackenzie’s story. But others, like Mackenzie’s half-sister Chynna, believe her claims. In fact, Chynna even says that Mackenzie told her about the incestuous relationship several years before she went public with the allegations.

This is the shocking story of Mackenzie Phillips and John Phillips.

The Early Life Of Mackenzie Phillips

Young Mackenzie Phillips

Wikimedia CommonsMackenzie Phillips as a young actress, pictured in 1975.

Born on November 10, 1959, in Alexandria, Virginia, Laura Mackenzie Phillips seemingly had a bright future ahead of her. Her father was John Phillips, the guitarist for The Mamas & The Papas. Her stepmother Michelle Phillips was a vocalist for the band, which also included Denny Doherty and Cass Elliot.

At the age of 12, Mackenzie Phillips followed in her father’s footsteps by forming a band. Shortly afterward, she was spotted by a talent agent and earned a part in the hit 1973 film American Graffiti.

From there, she launched a successful career as an actress. At 15, she landed a role on the television show One Day at a Time as Julie Mora Cooper Horvath, which brought Mackenzie fame and a hefty salary.

One Day At A Time

Wikimedia Commons/CBS TelevisionMackenzie Phillips in 1975, alongside fellow One Day at a Time cast members Bonnie Franklin and Valerie Bertinelli.

But while it may have appeared that Mackenzie had the world at her fingertips, there were signs that fame had a negative impact on her.

Mackenzie, who had rolled her first joint when she was 10 and tried cocaine for the first time at age 11, eventually began struggling with substance abuse and was arrested for disorderly conduct in 1977. Her behavior on the One Day at a Time set became erratic and she was subsequently fired from the show.

Mackenzie Phillips’ drug addiction resulted in two near-fatal overdoses that led her to enter rehab. After briefly rejoining the cast of One Day at a Time, she relapsed and collapsed on set. Once again, she was let go.

And her problems were far from over.

Mackenzie Phillips’ Alleged Incestuous Relationship With Her Father John Phillips

John Phillips

Getty ImagesMackenzie Phillips pictured with her father John Phillips in 1981.

After leaving the show, Mackenzie Phillips toured for several years with her dad John Phillips and Denny Doherty as part of the New Mamas and the Papas. On the surface, it seemed like this was the fresh start that the troubled actress needed.

But according to Mackenzie’s autobiography, which was released in 2009, there was something dark going on behind the scenes.

In her book High on Arrival, Mackenzie claimed she had engaged in a 10-year sexual relationship with her father that began after she was 18 years old. Though Mackenzie says the relationship became “consensual” with time, it allegedly began with sexual abuse. As she recalled, she had passed out after a drug binge and woke up to find that her father was raping her.

She wrote, “I woke up that night from a blackout to find myself having sex with my own father. I don’t remember how it started or, thankfully, how it ended. Was it the first time? Had this happened before? I didn’t know, and I still don’t. All I can say is that it was the first time I was aware of it.”

Shortly after the alleged assault, Mackenzie Phillips told her father, “We need to talk about how you raped me.” Seemingly puzzled, John Phillips purportedly replied, “Raped you? Don’t you mean, ‘We made love?'”

Eventually, the two allegedly began a long-term sexual relationship that Mackenzie says became consensual. “It didn’t happen every day, it didn’t happen every week, but it certainly happened many times,” Mackenzie said.

Mackenzie Phillips And John Phillips

Getty ImagesMackenzie Phillips with her father John Phillips while in a New Jersey drug rehab center in December 1980.

Mackenzie Phillips likened the relationship to a form of Stockholm Syndrome, where she came to sympathize with her abuser. Drugs also played a big role in the relationship, as both Mackenzie and John were regularly using at the time. According to Mackenzie, John was actually the one who originally introduced her to drugs, teaching her how to roll joints when she was a young child and allowing her to be around adults who were experimenting with several hard substances.

According to Mackenzie, this drug use only increased as she grew older and especially accelerated after the alleged incestuous relationship began.

“On the eve of my wedding, my father showed up, determined to stop it,” Mackenzie later wrote. “I had tons of pills and dad had tons of everything too. Eventually, I passed out on Dad’s bed.”

The relationship allegedly continued for a decade, long after she got married to Jeff Sessler in 1979. And Mackenzie claims the relationship only ended when she became pregnant and thought her father was the father. As Mackenzie tells it, John paid for her to get an abortion and she then refused to ever do something sexual with her father again after that.

According to Mackenzie, John Phillips felt that the two were in love and he even suggested that they run away to another country together. But to Mackenzie, the relationship was the source of a lot of mental anguish. She claimed that she has spent decades trying to repair the emotional damage and that she was only able to finally forgive her father on his deathbed.

Mixed Reactions After A Shocking Revelation

Mackenzie Phillips In 2008

Wikimedia CommonsMackenzie Phillips pictured in 2008, one year before she went public with her allegations against her father John Phillips.

Since John Phillips died of heart failure in 2001, he was never able to respond publicly to the explosive charges made by his daughter. However, Mackenzie’s half-sister, Chynna Phillips, said she believes the claims.

“Was he actually raping her? I don’t know,” Chynna said. “Do I believe that they had an incestuous relationship and that it went on for 10 years? Yes.”

In fact, Chynna claims that Mackenzie actually told her about the incestuous relationship in 1997, several years before she went public with the allegations. Chynna remembers reacting to the news in shock and sadness: “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?”

That said, two of John Phillips’ ex-wives have expressed skepticism. “John was a good man who had the disease of alcoholism and drug addiction,” his third wife Genevieve said. “He was incapable, no matter how drunk or drugged he was, of having such a relationship with his own child.”

“You should take with a grain of salt anything that’s said by a person who has had a needle stuck in their arm for 35 years,” John’s second wife Michelle told Us Weekly. “The whole story is disgusting.”

Since telling her story, Mackenzie Phillips has tried to put her past behind her. She’s still working in entertainment, but she’s also spent time focusing on helping other drug addicts through books and counseling work.

And despite all the trauma she’s endured, Mackenzie insists that her father was “not a bad man.” She also says that she doesn’t hate him.

As she put it: “I adored my father. I waited for him over and over again. I was constantly trying to get his attention and this deep visceral need to get his attention. Cover it with heroin, cocaine, alcohol, marijuana, barbiturates, everything you can think of. Over time, your perception of things and as they should be, the world as it is, the rules of society become warped and twisted.”

After learning about Mackenzie Phillips and her disturbing relationship with her father John Phillips, read the harrowing story of Elisabeth Fritzl, the Austrian woman who spent 24 years in her father’s dungeon. Then, learn about the most shocking cases of incest in history.

Wyatt Redd
A graduate of Belmont University with a Bachelor's in History and American University with a Master's in journalism, Wyatt Redd is a writer from Nashville, Tennessee who has worked with VOA and global news agency AFP.
Jaclyn Anglis
Jaclyn is the senior managing editor at All That's Interesting. She holds a Master's degree in journalism from the City University of New York and a Bachelor's degree in English writing and history (double major) from DePauw University. She is interested in American history, true crime, modern history, pop culture, and science.
Citation copied
Cite This Article
Redd, Wyatt. "Mackenzie Phillips Was The Daughter Of John Phillips — And The Alleged Victim Of His Sexual Abuse.", March 23, 2024, Accessed June 24, 2024.