On September 23, 2009, former One Day at a Time
star Mackenzie Phillips appeared on The Oprah Show
to reveal a shocking family secret she'd kept for years. She told Oprah that she'd carried on a sexual relationship with her father, John Phillips, the founder of the Mamas & the Papas, for approximately 10 years.
In her new memoir, High on Arrival
, Mackenzie describes her relationship with her father in detail. "I woke up that night from a blackout to find myself having sex with my own father," she writes. "I don't remember how it started or, thankfully, how it ended." Mackenzie says she was 17 or 18 the first time she was raped by her father, but they eventually became involved in a consensual relationship.
Mackenzie says she's been overwhelmed by the reaction to her revelations. "I expected there to be controversy, but I certainly never expected it to be like this," she says. "I've gotten at least 150 letters from women saying, 'I lived through this.' And people saying: 'You go, Mac. Own your truth and don't back down.' It's been very heartening, and it's been heartbreaking at the same time."
Some of the strongest reactions to Mackenzie's allegations have come from her family. Her half-sister Bijou Phillips addressed the issue in a statement she sent to The Oprah Show. "When I was 13, Mackenzie told me that she had a consensual sexual relationship with our father. This news was confusing and it was also scary, as I lived alone with him since I was 3. I didn't know what to believe and it didn't help that shortly thereafter, Mackenzie told me it didn't happen. Mackenzie's history with our father is hers, but also clouded with 30 years of drug abuse. I hope she can come to terms with this and find peace. The life I had with my father was very different. He was Mr. Mom. He was encouraging and loving. The man that raised me would never be capable of doing such things. And if he was, it was heartbreaking for me to think that my family would leave me alone with him. I understand Mackenzie's need to come clean with a history that she feels will help others, but it's devastating to have the world watch as we try and mend broken fences, especially when the man in question isn't here to defend himself."
Mackenzie says she hasn't spoken to Bijou since she came clean with her story, but for years they had been extremely close. Mackenzie didn't put up a fight when her sister lived with her father, she says, because she felt Bijou was safe. "My father, by the time that Bijou was living with him, had changed his ways as much as he was able to," she says. "Maybe I did her a disservice; I don't know." The one time she did feel Bijou wasn't being properly cared for, Mackenzie says she took her out of the house. Still, Mackenzie says she never thought her sister was in any sexual danger.
Michelle Phillips, John Phillips' second wife and a member of the Mamas & the Papas, also had a strong reaction to Mackenzie's allegations. "I have every reason to believe it is untrue," she said in an interview. "John was a bad parent and a drug addict, but f***ing his daughter? If she thinks it's true, why isn't she with a good psychiatrist on a couch? Mackenzie has a lot of mental illness. She's had a needle stuck up her arm for 35 years."
Mackenzie says that when her former stepmother found out about High on Arrival, she vowed to do everything she could to discredit its claims. "She's either protecting the Mamas & the Papas brand for her own reasons, or she is having a textbook reaction," Mackenzie says. "She's embarrassed. [She wants to] sweep it under the carpet, protect the abuser. ... I don't have a history of mental illness; I have a history of addiction. That is not mental illness. I feel bad that Michelle would do this."
Mackenzie's other half-sister, Chynna Phillips, is speaking out to support her. "[Incest] is not something people feel comfortable talking about, and she had the courage to come out and talk about it, and I'm proud of my sister," Chynna says. "But am I exceedingly joyful that my family secret that I told maybe my therapist, my husband and my very best friend in the world [is now public]? No."
Chynna says she learned about Mackenzie's sexual relationship with John about 12 years ago. Mackenzie told her over the phone, and Chynna says she believes her sister. "Who's going to go out of their way to say, 'I had sex with Dad'?" she says.
Despite what her mother, Michelle Phillips, says, Chynna says Mackenzie does not have mental illness. "She had a drug addiction. There's a big difference," she says. "I think my mom is angry. I love my mother very, very much. And she loves Mackenzie, whether she would admit that right now or not."
Chynna says her mother is in denial of the true relationship that took place between Mackenzie and John and isn't ready to face it in front of the public. "I respect that," she says. "It's not something that my mom wants plastered all over the papers. I mean, would you?"
Though Chynna says she would have preferred that her family saga not play out on the world's stage, she says her focus is on forgiving and supporting her family. "In my faith, as a Christian, God has told me that I need to forgive," she says. "It's a lifelong process. I'm not going to digest this information [overnight]. It's 13 years later, and I still haven't."
During her own childhood, Chynna says her father never made sexual advances toward her. She lived with her mother and only saw her father about every two years, she says. "I'm not going to say it was all glorious and perfect and birds flying around. No, there were some serious drugs that I saw going on," she says. "But the memories that I do hold onto of my father are the ones of us taking walks on the beach, writing songs together, laughing."
After hearing her sister's supportive words, Mackenzie says she's incredibly grateful. "Chy, you spoke so beautifully about Dad's heart and about your truth and about your faith. I couldn't love you more right now," she says. "I totally agree that it's turned out to be much more explosive than I could ever have imagined, and I'm really sorry, Chy, to put you in this position. But I don't regret writing the book, because I really believe it's going to be a great help for a lot of people and it's going to help me."
One more woman has spoken out in reaction to Mackenzie's story. Jessica Woods is the daughter of Denny Doherty, the other male singer in the Mamas & the Papas. In an e-mail to The Oprah Show, Jessica wrote: "I just watched your show with Mackenzie Phillips. Tears are running down my face. Everything she said is true. My dad told me the awful truth. He was horrified at what John had done and knew all of it."
Mackenzie says she is not surprised that Jessica knew what had happened. "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," she says. "I can count on two hands the people that could corroborate my story. But put more people in the line of fire? No."
Now that her story is out, Mackenzie says she is ready to move forward. "The outpouring of support for survivors shows me that maybe I can help be a voice. I don't know. But my path is becoming clearer to me the more clarity I get on what people are saying."