Book Source: High On Arrival by Mackenzie Phillips.
Hi guys! I’m Didi West. Welcome to Broken Limelight, where I’ll be telling stories about true crime among celebrities, like Hollywood stars and famous rock n rollers.
Today I’d like to tell the story of actress Mackenzie Phillips, as well as the complex relationship she had with her father, John Phillips, from The Mamas and The Papas. I want to go ahead and give a trigger warning right away. This story does contain themes like drug addiction and incest.
Mackenzie Phillips was born Laura Mackenzie Phillips. She had roles in American Graffiti and the sitcom One Day At a Time. In the late 90s’, she played Molly Phillips in So Weird on the Disney Channel. More recently, she was in Orange is the New Black. She was also on season 3 of Celebrity Rehab.
She was born in 1959 to Susan Adams and John Phillips. Susan and John had two kids, Mackenzie and Jeffrey, but they didn’t stay together for very long.
When Mackenzie was about two years old, John left Susan for a 16-year-old girl named Michelle. John was about 25, by the way.
Susan was a very proper lady. She’s described as sweet and warm, always keeping an orderly house and making life fun for the kids, even with little money.
John was a different story. John married Michelle in 1962, and in 1965, they formed the band The Mamas and The Papas and became famous practically overnight. Now that they’re rock stars, they decide to move to Los Angeles.
Susan and the kids were living in Virginia at the time and ended up following John out to LA. On Friday nights, the kids would go stay with John and Michelle for the weekend and went into party mode. John was a rockstar and a party person, and he was just a super charismatic dude. Plus, he’s now fabulously rich and famous. He was always throwing outrageous parties, and Hollywood stars and Rock and Roll Royalty were constantly coming in and out of his house.
One thing about John is that he always puts his pleasure before anything else. Even his kids. He was this huge hippie and he was all about free love and hedonism, and he never gave his kids any rules. Mackenzie would go out swimming in the pool or the ocean, naked, in the middle of the night. They would have to look for their food because the adults were all busy partying. The house was pretty much in complete chaos. John had bought a condo for Susan and the kids to live in, but he eventually stopped paying the rent or supporting them altogether. It came to a point where the landlords confiscated all of their stuff and eventually evicted them.
When Mackenzie was 7, Michelle calmly gathered supplies and pierced Mackenzie’s ears. Mackenzie later found out that Michelle was actually on LSD when that happened.
When the weekend was over and the kids went back home to Susan, she was Pissed! To see that Mackenzie’s little virgin 7-year-old ears had been violated. And when the kids came back home, Susan had to retrain the kids to behave like well-mannered people, because they had no rules at John’s house.
Shortly after Mackenzie’s 10th birthday, she was starting to go through puberty. John had all his rockstar buddies hanging out at his house, with the room full of adults, John says “Look at my little girl. She’s poppin’ tits.” In her memoir, Mackenzie says that the word “tits” still makes her cringe.
On the same day, John made that comment, he gave Mackenzie a “big girl job”. He taught Mackenzie how to break up weed and roll joints. He even taught her how to stick two papers together to make a “fatty”.
Since John’s basically like father of the year, (not), he would often send a car or limo to pick the kids up from Susan’s on Friday nights. When they got there, the house would be empty. One day Mackenzie arrived at her father’s empty house and just chilled and waited for her dad to get home.
At some point, Donovan, the singer-songwriter who wrote “Mellow Yellow”, showed up. They decided to make themselves brownies for lunch. While the brownies are in the oven, he tells her “You can’t have any of these.” She’s like, this is some kind of sick joke. Remember, she’s TEN. then he says “These are special brownies, for grown-ups.” Donovan found John’s weed and poured it into the brownie mix.
But Mackenzie goes “fuck that, they look like normal brownies to me.” and she takes one, and another, and another. Pretty soon, Donavan and little Mackenzie are baked off their asses, laughing hysterically, sliding down the stair rails. She got her first high at 10 years old.
When Mackenzie was 11, she tried cocaine for the first time. She and her brother, Jeffrey, found it while snooping around the house. Of course, the stuff wasn’t exactly hidden. The thing is, the only thing they knew about drugs was that it was something that glamorous celebrities did. It was never hidden or discouraged. This environment and lifestyle set the foundation for Mackenzie’s entire life.
One year on NYE, Susan’s new husband, Lenny, beat the crap out of Susan. This made the kids livid, and they started to act out. Eventually, Jeffrey gets the brunt of Lenny’s force and ends up running away and moving in with John. It wasn’t long before Lenny lost his shit on Mackenzie, and she left to move in with John too. At this point, Susan starts drinking heavily and starts to lose control of her kids and her relationship.
While living at Johns, Mackenzie and Jeffrey again had no rules, and by this point, they had both been using drugs for years. They would ask their dad for drugs or money whenever they wanted. Mackenzie would stay at John’s parties to get high.
To give you another example of how few fucks John had to give, he had pre-signed a bunch of blank sheets of paper for Mackenzie to write notes for herself for being absent or tardy to school. Because, of course, none of the adults in the house were sober or awake, or willing to drive her.
Here’s another shining moment for John. When Mackenzie was 12, she was cast in the movie American Graffiti. Her parents bought her a ticket and put her on a plane to San Francisco, by herself, to go film. When she got there, the producer, Gary Kurtz, was like “Hey, where’s your guardian?” and Mackenzie was just like “...uh my mom just gave me a ticket and put me on the plane.”
Mackenzie didn’t know it at the time, but Gary and his wife ended up having to scramble to get temporary guardianship over Mackenzie so that she could stay with them throughout filming. She didn’t understand the situation until she was an adult.
At the premiere of American Graffiti, John handed Mackenzie a couple of Qualudes. Mackenzie kept dozing off, so John would give her little spoonfuls of cocaine to wake her up.
After American Graffiti premiered, John and his new wife, Genevieve, decided to ship Mackenzie off to boarding school.
-Why am I not surprised?-
So while Mackenzie’s in boarding school, John sends her magazine and newspaper cutouts showing her raving reviews about her performance in American Graffiti. After not hearing from him for a bit, one day, the headmaster comes to her and says “Hey, your father hasn’t paid your tuition and we can’t reach him.” He tells her “You can stay in your room here, but you can’t go to classes or participate in any school activities.” Mackenzie ends up wandering around the campus for WEEKS without hearing a single word from John. She’s stranded in Switzerland. After raving to her about her shining performance, he had forgotten about her again.
Finally, after a few weeks, John sends a plane ticket. The school put her on a bus to the airport. She’s 14, alone, and doesn’t speak the language. She has this terrible time, her flight gets delayed or canceled. When she finally gets to the United States, she gets hit with the realization that she’s now famous. Not just for being Papa John’s daughter, but people recognize her from American Graffiti. Mackenzie finds her dad at the airport waiting for her, along with her cousin Patty. Patty says “Welcome Home, Kid” and hands her a quaalude.”
Now that Mackenzie is known for American Graffiti, and living in a house where there are no rules, she spends all of her time partying and doing drugs or having sex whenever she pleases, just as she was taught. After a night on the town, Mackenzie and her friends Billy and Jody get picked up by a hitchhiker, whom they thought they had recognized. At one point, “Mackenzie says “This isn’t the way to my house.” The driver says “I think the gas cap’s loose.” So Jody and Billy hop out to check it, and as Mackenzie tries to get out, he stops her and says “You stay here.” She tries to lunge for the door and Billy grabs her arm and tries to pull her out. She's like half in the car and half out. The guy put a knife to Mackenzie’s throat and stepped on the gas pedal, dragging Mackenzie and forcing Billy to lose his grip on her. Once Billy and Jodie are in the dust, the guy stops and pulls Mackenzie back into the car and rapes her. He told her repeatedly that he was going to kill her. When he was done, he threw her out of the car and sped away. Mackenzie, in her denim skirt, fishnet stockings, and platform heels, ran back to her friends. They were sitting with the police, sobbing.
The next night, some friends of John’s had overheard some guys talking about how their buddy raped Papa John’s daughter. That night, John left the house with a shotgun and disappeared for a day and a half. This moment gave Mackenzie some hope that her father loves her and wants to protect her, that he takes care of her. Which is what she’s always wanted.
Of course, that feeling doesn’t last long. John, Genevieve, and their new son, Tamerlane, leave for New York for the weekend, expecting to be back by Tuesday. The kids were left under the care of John’s friends, Marcia and Yippy. Tuesday came and went, and John started extending the trip. After a month in New York and Marsia getting sick and tired of Mackenzie and Jeffrey’s wild antics, he calls John to complain. What does John do? He buys a ticket to New York for MARCIA AND YIPPY.
So he calls his sister, Aunt Rosie, to come watch the kids. Long story short, John and Genevieve never come back. Aunt Rosie is the new caretaker.
When Mackenzie was 16, she started working on a sitcom called One Day at a Time. She starred alongside Valerie Bertinelli, who played her sister, and Bonnie Franklin who played her mom. They all formed a close bond, and also, Mackenzie’s aunt Rosie and her daughters, Patty and Nancy, also got jobs working on the show. So Mackenzie’s finally surrounded by family, which is something she’s never experienced. If you recall Mackenzie’s experience working in American Graffiti, when she was only 12, and her parents just sent her off on her own. Everyone else in the cast was at least 18. So her time on One Day at a Time was her first time feeling like she had a family.
However, the one person she wanted to be close to was her dad. But John was just John. So one day John and Genevieve said they’d come and watch from the live audience, and Mackenzie asked the producer to reserve two seats. Mackenzie was looking through the curtains before the show and glancing at the audience, and the seats were still empty. He never showed up, and this unfortunately happened many times.
After the first season of One Day at a Time, John let Mackenzie spend the summer with him and Genevieve in London. At one point, John and Keith decided to go score, and they told Mackenzie that they would meet her at Keith’s house and that a driver would show up soon to pick her up. Again, she waited and waited, and waited, and no one ever came for her. She fell asleep waiting for someone to show up, and all of a sudden in the middle of the night, she woke up and saw that the power was out. Her phone was dead, and she was all alone, and she was only 16. So she had to hang out in this random house in London by herself with no power, once again, waiting for her dad.
Mackenzie describes this as a dark experience. She knew full well that there was no guarantee that her dad or any driver would ever come back for her. She started wondering what was so wrong with her that made people want to leave, was she invisible? Did she exist? She was super alone. All she could find to eat was old bread.
After 3 days, John and Keith showed up and were just like “We’re here!” and Mackenzie couldn’t even be mad at them because she was just so grateful someone had come for her.
So Mackenzie was living with her aunt Rosie and her daughters in John’s old house in California, but of course, John stopped paying the mortgage and the bills. So the owners get pissed, and then they get even more pissed when they see all the damage that's been done from all the drugs and partying.
Once Mackenzie starts making a ton of money from One Day at a Time, she rents an apartment for all of them to live in. Mackenzie has been doing drugs and living with no rules for years at this point, and with her having all this fame and money, Aunt Rosie can’t do much since Mackenzie’s the one covering all the bills. So Mackenzie just embraces her wild child and doesn’t take answers from anyone. John told her “You’re a Phillips and the rules don’t apply to you” and this was all she knew.
Mackenzie ended up buying a new house and moving out when she was about 17 and started living on her own. Around her 18th birthday, she went clubbing with John’s friend, Yipi, and she took some quaaludes. Yippy pulled over to pick something up from a club, and for some reason, Mackenzie got out of the car. She was wasted. So she stumbled up to some police officers saying that some guy was bugging her, and as soon as they realized who she was, they arrested her. When her dad heard about it, he told her “It’s about time you’ve proven that you’re a real Phillips.”
When Mackenzie was 19 she met a guy named Jeff Sessler. After 5 days of seeing each other, they decided to get married. Everyone around her warned her not to marry Jeff, saying that he was a terrible guy and a huge asshole. But the night before the wedding, she got a call from her dad. She hadn’t spoken to him in months.
John flew out to visit and got a hotel room just a few rooms down from Mackenzie and Jeff’s. Jeff went to bed and Mackenzie went over to visit John and Bob. Bob was also asleep, so Mackenzie and John pulled out their drugs and like, compared them and shared them. Mackenzie took some downers and passed out.
This next part is pretty disturbing. In my podcast, this is where I play a clip of Mackenzie on the Oprah Winfrey show, where she reads a passage from her book. In this passage, she describes how after she blacked out from the drugs, she woke up and realized she was in the middle of having sex with John. Then, she blacked out again.
The next morning, Mackenzie was horrified and confused, but just tried to bottle it all away and go on with her life. She didn’t end up marrying Jeff just yet, and they all went back home to LA.
Months later, she confronted John about the rape, and he responded “raped you? You mean when we made love?” Again, Mackenzie tried to just think of it as a bad dream and move forward.
Mackenzie married Jeff not long after that, and their relationship was fueled by constant drugs, sex, and partying. When the honeymoon was over and Mackenzie went back to work on One Day at a Time, things weren’t the same. The show was still dealing with the aftermath of the news of Mackenzie’s public intoxication and arrest, and she was now regularly showing up to work late and on drugs, even as far as nodding off on set, and had lost a noticeable amount of weight. The executive producers finally told her “We’re giving you a sabbatical, go get well, put on a little weight. Come back in 3 weeks.”
So Mackenzie stayed away from drugs for a couple of weeks, touched up her hair cut and color, and came back to the show looking great. And the show went on. After just a few weeks, she was back to old habits and nodding off on set again. And everyone around her truly wanted the best for her, but she didn’t think she had a problem. It wasn’t long before she was fired from One Day at a Time.
John and Mackenzie hadn’t spoken for months after their last encounter, until John’s mother, Dini, passed away. After that, Mackenzie went to stay with John and Genevieve in New York. During this stay, John and Mackenzie of course did cocaine together. And John, always a man of fatherly advice, kept telling her that shooting up (or injecting) cocaine, gave a better high.
Weirdly, Mackenzie kind of wanted to fit in with her dad. She was always longing for his attention and his approval. So John tied off her arm and got the drugs ready in the syringe, but he was like “I can’t do this”, so he walked Mackenzie through it. This was Mackenzie’s first time using drugs by way of needles, and she would continue to do this for a large part of her life.
About a year after Mackenzie’s failed marriage to Jeff Sessler, John was arrested for trafficking narcotics. He was facing 45 years in prison. He convinced Mackenzie to go with him to rehab so he could show the court that not only he was reformed, but he was going to help his daughter clean up her act as well.
They completed a 6-week outpatient treatment program at Fair Oaks Hospital, and then Mackenzie became a counselor helping kids and teens with drug and alcohol problems. John was also “recovered”, and the two of them started doing anti-drug publicity together.
With the trial coming up, John decided to start a Mamas and the Papas revival band. Mama Cass Elliot had passed away and Michelle had moved on, so Mackenzie was one of the singers of what they now called, the New Mamas and the Papas.
Mackenzie started snorting cocaine again. She didn’t start shooting up just yet, but it wasn’t long before her lifestyle put her in danger again. It wasn’t uncommon for her to hang out with people she didn’t know and end up in an unfamiliar apartment with new junkie friends. One night while clubbing, a group of strangers drugged her. She last remembered walking out of the club wearing a dress. suddenly she wakes up in a strange place, wearing sweatpants.
These random guys had kidnapped her and held her for days, drugging her food, and keeping her foggy the whole time. After 5 or 6 days, John’s friend Big Sal came busting through the door. He grabbed her and her clothes and took her home.
After the New Mamas and the Papas started touring, Mick Barakan joined the band. Mick and Mackenzie fell in love quickly, and would later get married and have a son, Shane. But there was something dark going on while the band was touring. Mackenzie and John started having sex regularly.
First of all, this was not consensual. It started like this. The band would play show after show, and the Mamas and the Papas would party afterward. Mackenzie would black out, and in the morning, she would wake up in her father’s bed with her pants down around her ankles, and her father sleeping next to her. She’d wake up with no memory of what happened.
She wanted to purge this experience from her memory, but she was always this little girl begging for his attention and his approval. And John was a man who knew no boundaries, had no rules. His pleasure was his highest priority in life. Mackenzie was freaked out but didn’t know what to do.
Unfortunately, that night became one of many nights. She would go over to her dad’s room after the shows, and even though she knew what might happen, she continued to go back because, 1, she wanted to get drugs from him, and 2- she probably wanted to spend time with him, and using drugs with him was pretty much the only way she knew to bond with him.
The fact that she was blacking out throughout the encounters also made it easier to put the reality out of her head.
Mackenzie says that the idea of sex with her father repulsed her. The relationship they had was never romantic. They didn’t hold hands and kiss. This wasn’t a consensual relationship and it wasn’t something that happened every night either. This was something that would happen once in a while when they got fucked up together. She did freak out about how weird it was, but her dad wasn’t just supplying her drugs, he was also her boss and he controlled her paycheck. It took Mackenzie some time to realize that incest cannot be consensual. But it was hard for her to hate him, so instead she hated herself.
The “relationship” went on for years, until Mackenzie became pregnant. She didn’t tell her husband, Mick, about what was going on with her father, but they already had one baby, Shane. and Mackenzie’s addiction had already been putting a strain on her relationship with Mick, so they agreed that Mackenzie would get an abortion. The abortion marked the end of the incest.
When Mackenzie’s son was about 3 or 4, she realized that she wasn’t being a great mother and decided to go back to rehab. While there, she had this mortifying incident where she had her drug dealer deliver cocaine to her rehab, and she couldn’t find a syringe but she found an IV tube with a needle attached. So she tried to make it work by like, blowing into the end of the IV tube, and blood sprayed all over the place. This experience was Mackenzie’s last time using cocaine for 15 years.
When Mackenzie finished her rehab program, she became the mom she always wanted to be. She drove her son Shane to playdates, birthday parties, and soccer practice, she would read to him every night. She hosted Tupperware parties and surrounded herself with other clean former drug users.
Now that Mackenzie was clean, she distanced herself from her father a bit. She tried to convince him to get clean but he was stubborn and refused.
In 1999, Mackenzie got a job working on the Disney TV show “So Weird” playing Molly Phillips. She used her money to buy a house for herself and Shane.
In 2001, Mackenzie got a call letting her know that her dad was very ill and on the way to the hospital. She rushed to his side and stayed with him. It was clear that he wasn’t going to be alive much longer. Mackenzie decided to forgive her father, once and for all. John was never a man to apologize or even act like anything he did was at all regrettable. He just looked up at Mackenzie sighed, and put his head on her shoulder.
In John’s last days, Mackenzie and her brother Jeffrey asked the doctors to up John’s morphine, because they thought that if anyone should go out under the influence, it was John.
That night, Mackenzie went to the chapel in the hospital, picked up a prayer card and pencil, and wrote “Please take my father tonight, if possible.” Early the next morning, Mackenzie got the call that John had died. It was a Monday. Mackenzie’s husband, Mick, played the Mamas and the Papas song “Monday Monday” by John’s side.
-Monday Monday, Can’t trust that day-
Not long after John died, Mackenzie decided to get cosmetic surgeries, like liposuction and a boob job. She was in a lot of pain after this, so her family doctor prescribed her Demerol, Vicodin, Thorazine, Xanax, and Valium.
It wasn’t long before Mackenzie was back to drinking, and people were starting to talk about her being all fucked up all the time. And Mackenzie just insisted that she didn’t have a problem and that she had legitimate pain. She eventually started using Fentanyl and Oxycontin, getting multiple prescriptions and filling them at multiple pharmacies. She eventually tried detoxing, but it wasn’t long before she found a bunch of syringes at her diabetic mom’s house, and started shooting cocaine again.
Mackenzie eventually let her struggling friends and drug dealers, Josh and Lisa, move in with her. This is when Mackenzie started smoking heroin and before long, she was shooting it up.
In 2008, Mackenzie received a request to appear on the Rachel Ray show for Rachel’s 40th birthday. They were going to surprise her by having the whole cast of One Day at a Time appear, which was Rache’s favorite show. Before heading out to the airport, she tucked a bunch of cocaine and heroin into her pockets. When she went through TSA at the airport, the metal detector went off because she had the drugs wrapped up in foil. So they had her step aside and she took this little bag of drugs out of her pocket and put it in her waistband. They waved the wand over her and of course, she started beeping. Mackenzie started saying “Please don’t bust me, my son doesn’t know.” the officer was like “I’m sorry Ms. Phillips, please sit down over there.” when she went to take a step, the bag of drugs slipped down her pant leg. So she put her foot on it and then was like “Now what?” she couldn’t move from that spot without exposing the drugs. This big lady cop gets in her face and starts screaming “Are you holding?” and then she sees the corner of the baggie under Mackenzie’s foot, and they arrest her.
Mackenzie’s sister Bijou bailed her out and told her that she had to go to Narcotics Anonymous. So she was like “Fine, but I want to go home and see my dogs first.” Bijou had a guy from Narcanon with her so he waited with Bijou while Mackenzie went into her house. But while she was there, she asked Josh for drugs, he gave her cocaine, and she shot up and shot up until eventually, she came out of the bathroom to find her siblings, her son, and some of her closest friends gathered in her bedroom. She tried to make one more excuse to go grab some syringes before going, but she saw her son Shane watching her, so she just put the syringes back in the drawer and said “Okay let’s go.”
Mackenzie spent 3 months in Narconon. When she finished her treatment program, Shane picked her up and took her home, and she’s been clean ever since.
I did my research on Mackenzie’s memoir, it’s called High on Arrival. Mackenzie released it in 2009; 8 years after her father, John passed away. She fully expected her family to be shocked by the news of the incest, but what she didn’t expect was all of the backlash she received. Her stepmother, Michelle, doesn’t believe it to be true.
She was quoted as saying “After 35 years with a needle up her arm (including several months while she was pregnant) it’s difficult to believe much of her story. She has hurt everyone in her family tremendously, and apparently feels no guilt or shame in doing it or even how she decided to deal with her, um.. Memories.”
Her sister, Chynna, on the other hand, who is the daughter of Michelle and John Phillips, says that Mackenzie actually called her and told her about the incest back in 1997.
Denny Doherty, who was the other male singer in the Mama’s and the Papas, had told his daughter, Jessica Wood, about the incest, however, he said it wasn’t his story to tell and that Mackenzie would have to be the one to tell it. Denny passed away, and after Mackenzie appeared on Oprah, Jessica wrote in an email corroborating that her father had told her the truth before passing away.
Mackenzie has come a long way in the last few years. She has received an outpouring of support and become a part of a community of incest survivors. She says it was with the help of this community and Dr. Drew from Celebrity Rehab that she learned about the dynamics of an incest relationship and how grooming occurs. She now lives a simple life with her son Shane.
I wanted to tell Mackenzie’s story, because I don’t think she should be remembered from her time on Celebrity Rehab or in Tabloids. Mackenzie was a victim, and now she is a survivor. Since 2013, Phillips has worked as a substance use counselor. She is now a manager and counselor at Breathe Life Healing Centers in West Hollywood, California. She has come an incredibly long way, and that should be recognized.