Mackenzie Phillips' Family Secret
Now, at 49, the daughter of rock legend John Phillips—leader of the Mamas & the Papas —is revealing the most shocking part of her past for the first time. It's a secret Mackenzie says she's kept hidden for more than 30 years.
"You often hear on television people say, 'It's shocking,'" Oprah says. "And, in this case, I would have to say it really is."
In her memoir, High on Arrival , Mackenzie shares details of her dysfunctional childhood and drug addiction, all of which lead up to a stunning revelation on page 108.
Frightened and vulnerable, Mackenzie reads the page aloud: "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. For a moment I was in my body, in that horrible truth, and then I slid back into a blackout. Your father is supposed to protect you. Your father is supposed to protect you, not f*** you."
When Mackenzie regained consciousness the next morning, she says she was alone in her hotel room. From that moment on, she began hiding from the painful memory.
"I started very early on in my life compartmentalizing, boxing away difficult memories. And this was the mother of all difficult experiences," she says. "It was one of those things where [you think]: 'Don't look. Don't look.' You tell yourself there's a video loop in your head of this event, this occurrence, this moment in time. I have spent the last 31 years trying not to look at it."
Soon after her rape, Mackenzie says she confronted her father. "I said, 'Look, we need to talk about how you raped me,'" she says. "And my dad said: 'Raped you? Don't you mean when we made love?' And, in that moment, I thought, 'Wow, I'm really on my own here.'"
Burdened with a dark secret, Mackenzie says she felt very alone.
In 1981, Mackenzie went on the road with her father and their band, the New Mamas & the Papas. By this time, Mackenzie says her drug use had escalated to a raging cocaine habit.
"We're touring, and I begin waking up after drug-fueled events with my pants around my ankles and my father sleeping beside me," she says. "Again, [I thought]: 'Don't think. Don't look. Just keep going.' And this happened over time. It didn't happen every day. It didn't happen every week, but it certainly happened."
John's secret sexual relationship with his daughter lasted for 10 years.
"It became a consensual relationship over time, and I know that I can't be the only one this has happened to," Mackenzie says. "Nobody's talking about this, and someone needs to put a face on not only nonconsensual incest but consensual incest, because I know it exists."
"My father was not a bad man. He was kind of a testament to what drugs and alcohol—in huge quantities—can do to a person's priorities. Their motives," she says. "I don't hate him. I understand that he was a very tortured man, and he sort of passed that torture down to me."
That wasn't the only thing Mackenzie shared with her father. As a teen, Mackenzie says her father, the man she idolized, taught her how to shoot up cocaine, and they often got high together. "What you've been taught is what you know, and that was kind of like it for me," she says. "I didn't have very good role models."
After she landed the starring role on One Day at a Time alongside actress Valerie Bertinelli, Mackenzie's life began to revolve around drugs. She freebased cocaine, popped pills and dropped acid in the glare of the public spotlight. Then, two years after Mackenzie's first arrest, she was fired from One Day at a Time.
When she was a little girl, Mackenzie says she was the child who tugged at her father's pant leg, trying desperately to get his attention. "It [was] like grasping at smoke," she says. "Add to that deep, visceral yearning for a connection, cover it with heroin, cocaine, alcohol, marijuana, barbiturates—everything you can think of."
Mackenzie says there's no way to justify this time in her life, and inevitably, she'll experience some backlash.
"I was old enough to know better, and, clearly from the way I talk about it in the book, I knew better," she says. "For me to try to make an excuse to justify this portion of my life would be for me to do a disservice to High on Arrival and to the people who have survived this throughout the world. I can't explain this away. It happened, and it's all in there."
In High on Arrival, she describes the moment she realized what they were doing was very wrong: "The Mamas & the Papas had several gigs in Hawaii, and Dad and I had adjoining rooms. But I don't think I went to my own room the whole time. Dad had brought tons of pills, and I found us some coke. We were lying in bed, in a stupor, when Dad said: 'We could just run away to a country where no one would look down on us. There are countries where this is an accepted practice. Maybe Fiji.' Then he said, 'We can take Bijou and Tam and Shane and raise them as our children.' My father was completely delusional. He was fantasizing about living with me, as man and wife, and raising my siblings, his children, as our children.
"The moment he tried to make it romantic, I had a visceral reaction. 'No,' I thought, 'We're going to hell for this.'"
At the time, Mackenzie was also in a relationship with another man, the father of her son, Shane. Mackenzie says her boyfriend had no idea what was going between her and her father.
"I had an abortion," she says. "And I never let [my father] touch me again."
Mackenzie says John knew it could be his child, so he paid for the abortion.
"It was one of those moments where you're either going to live or die," she says. "I don't mean death. I mean, wake up dead. Dead to feeling. Dead to reality."
"I was like: 'You can't keep living this way. You're going to die,' and he actually said to me, 'Macks.' He called me Macks. 'Get down off your high horse. I know what I'm doing. I'm an old hand at this. This isn't my first rodeo. I'll be fine,'" she says. "And he chose an alcoholic death for himself by never even making a stab at recovery."
While John lay dying in the hospital, Mackenzie says she confronted him once again. "I said to him, 'Dad, we've been through a lot—good, bad, indifferent,'" she says. "He was looking up at me, and I said, 'I would not be the woman I am had I not been your daughter, and I'm very proud of the woman I am, regardless of my past.' I said, 'So I want you to know that I love you, and I forgive you.'"
Mackenzie's dad didn't respond. She says he just sighed and put his head down on the pillow.
When John died in 2001, Mackenzie says she thought she'd feel free…but she was wrong. "I learned that something about my father's existence had helped me to stay clean, helped me to stay well. It was almost like I was flipping him off by staying clean," she says. "And I unraveled."
Watch as she discusses her paranoia and all-consuming addiction.
Then, in August 2008, she was invited to be part of a One Day at a Time reunion on The Rachael Ray Show…but she didn't make it far. On her way to New York City, she was arrested at Los Angeles International Airport for possession of heroin and cocaine.
"That was one of the most terrifying moments of my life," she says. "I cried. I was just weeping. All I could think of was my son. All I could think of was Shane, and God bless him, he is the loveliest person. I'm so lucky to have such a great young man."
Mackenzie was charged with two felony counts of possession of narcotics, and she's serving 18 months of informal probation.
Since her arrest one year ago, Mackenzie says she's been clean.
What Mackenzie doesn't know is Valerie flew to Chicago to surprise and support her during this difficult time. "Oh, Val, I'm so happy you're here," Mackenzie says. "I can't thank you enough. You cannot imagine what this means to me."
Valerie says she had no idea what her friend of 30 years had been through. "I feel regret that I wasn't there for you as much as I could have been. I was so wrapped up in my own life," she says. "So I wasn't paying attention to [Mackenzie], my sister."
"Interesting that they're not concerned about how it might defame me," Mackenzie says. "I'm taking a huge personal risk telling this story, and I have to say that I loved my father. I still do. … I know for a fact that I am the only daughter that this happened to, and I don't know why he chose me to visit his demons upon."
Mackenzie says families often try to sweep incest under the table. "For some reason, [people] think: 'Let's protect the abuser. Let's protect the reputation,'" she says. "I, on the other hand, firmly believe that if he could have done everything differently, he would have. He never set out to harm me."
Despite the love she still feels for her father, Mackenzie says what he did was wrong. "No matter what kind of incest it is, it is an abuse of power," she says. "Whether it be consensual or otherwise, it is a betrayal of trust."
After 31 years of secrecy, Mackenzie says she had to tell her story for herself and others like her.
"In the finding redemption and freedom for myself, maybe I'm going to be giving a little piece of it to somebody else to hold onto," she says. "Having this type of story, and still being here to tell the tale, tells me that I'm still here for a reason."