Mackenzie Phillips carried a terrible secret with her for most of her life—and it wasn't until 2009 that she finally confessed it to the world.
1. She Was Born Free
Mackenzie Phillips grew up under the depraved parenting of The Mamas & The Papas member John Phillips, but she may have been better off being raised by wolves. Dad had only one rule: never say no to anything. Yes, Phillips grew up as a free spirit, but this soon turned into a harrowing ordeal that would take years of rehab and therapy to recover from.
2. Her Childhood Wasn’t Normal
Mackenzie Phillips was born on November 10, 1959, in Alexandria Virginia. Right from the start, young Mackenzie must have been aware that her home life wasn’t what most of her friends had. Not only was her house filled with musicians, but it also set the scene for nonstop substance use.
The family was highly dysfunctional and the inevitable divorce was not going to help Mackenzie one little bit.
3. She Was Caught Between Two Worlds
The thing was, as a child, Phillips pinballed between two households. On the one hand, she had her mother who, besides a pesky problem with drinking, was pretty stable. On the other days, Phillips was with her dad in his run-down pleasure palace. Here, there were no rules. Phillips could roller skate in a drained pool and hang out with cool musicians like Mick Jagger.
There were, however, a few bizarre stipulations while living at her father's house.
4. She Had A Terrible Father
Sure John Phillips was an unconventional father to Mackenzie, but he still had standards. For example, when she was in his care, she had to sleep under his roof at least once a week. Where she went the other days was apparently not his business. Another rule was about the way MacKenzie dressed.
If she was coming home in the morning, she had to arrive home in different clothes than the ones she went out in. According to dad: that’s what a lady does. Needless to say, Phillips had no curfew. But she did have one chore—and it was straight out of bizarro land.
5. She Lived In A Den Of Depravity
At the age of 10, Mackenzie Phillips became the house joint roller for her father and his friends. Maybe you think that Phillips was living the dream—hanging out with rock stars and being free. This wasn’t the case at all. Imagine being a kid and knocking on the bathroom door and getting this response from dear old dad: “Not now darling. Daddy’s shooting up".
Mackenzie clearly lived in a den of depravity.
6. She Didn’t Have A Chance
Sure, Phillips’ father made his own bad choices, but these soon bled into Mackenzie’s own life. By the time she was 11, things had gotten out of control. Her father started injecting narcotics into his 11-year-old daughter's body. Mackenzie Phillips didn’t have a chance, and things were about to get much worse.
7. She Crossed A Line
A side effect of growing up around a user like her father was the ample—and dangerous—supply of substances floating around the house. On one occasion, Phillips found a tempting purple pill in her father's bedroom. Without a thought, she popped the pill and then got into big trouble.
You see, this pill had been cooked up by the famous Owsley Stanley—and happened to be a collector's item. She later wrote, “It was as if I’d crashed a normal dad’s Porsche. He said, ‘You took my last hit of Owsley. You’re grounded!’" But this was just the tip of the iceberg.
8. She Struck A Chord
Mackenzie Phillips grew up astonishingly fast. At the age of 12, Phillips had already formed her own band—and this led to a shocking opportunity. Somehow a casting agent attended a performance of Phillips’ band and kapow! He immediately wanted to give the charismatic Phillips an audition for a Hollywood movie.
9. She Just Had To Get There
Phillips didn’t have to wait very long for her big Hollywood break. In fact, her first audition landed her first role. The film was American Graffiti directed by future Star Wars creator George Lucas. The budget for American Graffiti was incredibly tight, but Phillips didn’t care. All she had to do was get to Hollywood and jump start her career.
With parents like hers, however, even a trip to LA was incredibly precarious.
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10. She Was All Alone
A 12-year-old girl headed off to big, bad Hollywood certainly needed a lot of care and attention. Well, not according to Phillips’ parents. They just wished her luck and put her on the plane. Phillips was going to need more than luck, because she was about to arrive at LAX without a chaperone and no place to stay.
When she got off the plane, the producers of American Graffiti couldn’t believe their eyes. Here was this vulnerable 12-year-old all alone with her suitcase. Clearly, mom and dad were not up for taking care of their daughter. Phillips needed some parental guidance and she needed it now.
11. She Was Up For Grabs
Phillips’ parents had allowed their daughter to travel alone to LA, and now the people making American Graffiti had to deal with this abandoned 12-year-old. What Phillips desperately needed was a guardian: someone who could make adult decisions for her. Luckily, the producer of the film stepped in and offered to be Phillips’ legal guardian while she made American Graffiti.
Phillips had to quickly put the drama of the airport behind her. Now she had to learn how to act.
12. She Didn’t Know What She Was Doing
Mackenzie Phillips was in an amazingly awkward position: She was in a real Hollywood film but had no experience acting. One scene in American Graffiti found Phillips sitting in a car with the window open. When a water balloon hit the side of the car and got her a little wet, the director told her to act mad.
Well, the guy in charge of throwing the balloon misfired, and it smacked Phillips square in the face. Being 12, Phillips started laughing, but astonishingly didn’t break character at all. Lucas was over the moon with Phillips’ adlib and kept it in the film. Obviously this acting thing was easy as pie for pint-sized Phillips.
13. They Hid Her Away
Phillips survived the making of American Graffiti, and then realized something: She hadn’t gone to high school yet. Here, her neglectful parents did step in and arranged to tuck her away at a boarding school in Switzerland. However, after finishing her schooling, something about her home country was clearly different.
Astonishingly, people on the street were staring at her, and she had no idea why. It turned out that American Graffiti had hit theaters and was a huge success. Without her knowledge, Phillips had become a celebrity. Yes, she was famous, but she still couldn’t get the attention she desperately wanted from her father.
14. She Ran Wild
After she finished at boarding school, Phillips longed for freedom. The shocking thing was that her parents didn’t seem to care how she expressed her freedom. Phillips said that as a teeanger when she wanted to buy something she didn’t ask her rich father for money, she just stole it.
She also didn’t need a driver as she got around Los Angeles by hitchhiking. Tragically, she also picked up something else from her father: a penchant for substance misuse. This led Phillips down a very dangerous road.
15. She Got In A Car
Phillips was a vulnerable young girl, getting high, hanging around LA and jumping into cars with strangers. It was only a matter of time until her luck ran out. While she was hitchhiking, the worst thing happened. A man pulled out a blade and forced himself on poor young Phillips.
At the time, Phillips just brushed off the incident as unfortunate and headed for the next adventure. It was incidents like these, however, that would come back to haunt her. It was clear that Phillips needed some kind of parental support. Well, it was about to come from a very unlikely source.
16. She Nailed It
TV producer Norman Lear, who’d created such groundbreaking shows like All in the Family and Maude, was looking for a young woman to play the daughter to a single mom. The show was One Day at a Time and let’s just say that with Lear at the helm it had “hit” written all over it. Phillips auditioned and nailed it.
Not only was she going to be on a hit TV show, she was also going to get something she desperately needed: a stable home life.
17. She Wasn’t Enough
On One Day at a Time, Phillips found a surrogate parent in her TV mother played by Bonnie Franklin. Phillips still didn’t have much experience as an actor, so she had to try and hold her own beside this performing veteran. When they’d finished the pilot, the producers watched it and came to a humiliating decision: Phillips wasn’t enough.
To make the show work they had to make a huge change. Phillips was on pins and needles. Was she about to lose her first TV gig?
18. She Was Jealous
Phillips just wasn't enough to make One Day at a Time a hit show. The producers decided that what the show needed was a second child. Enter young, cute and totally inexperienced Valerie Bertinelli. Let’s just say that Phillips was not happy with the addition. All she wanted was her TV mom all to herself, and now the adorable Bertinelli was standing in her way.
19. They Were Enemies
During the first season of One Day at a Time, Phillips made sure to treat her new unwanted sister as horribly as possible. If Bertinelli got a crush on a new male guest on the show, Phillips—who was much more outgoing than Bertinelli—would swoop in and heartlessly steal the guy away.
Phillips later explained the reason for her outlandish behavior: She was jealous of her TV sister. Over time, the two young women did eventually start a friendship. A good thing because years later—when Phillips really needed a friend—Bertinelli would stand by her.
20. She Spilled Her Goods
Sure, Phillips was finally feeling the security of a stable family, but it didn’t mean her substance issues were behind her. In fact, they even followed her to work. In one incredibly embarrassing moment, Phillips was at a One Day at a Time cast meeting and somehow the contents of her pocket ended up on the meeting room floor.
Phillips was in absolute shock when she looked down and saw her illicit stash scattered across the floor. Surprisingly, no one said anything, and Phillips thought she’d gotten off scot free. That wasn’t actually true. As we'll soon see, punishment was just around the corner.
21. He Came For Her
When word got out that Phillips was now “of age” it didn’t take long for some of dad’s friends to show up. According to her, the Rolling Stones’ Mick Jagger caught up with Phillips at a party at her father's house.
The two were having a good time, and things between Phillips and Jagger started heating up. Jagger then suggested that the two of them head somewhere a little more comfortable.
22. He Was Creepy
The place that the almost 40-year-old Jagger took 18-year-old Phillips to was his own house. More specifically it was the bed he shared with his wife Jerry Hall. Hall was conveniently not there, so Jagger took this as an opportunity to have some extracurricular fun.
To get Phillips into bed, Jagger used a line that really should go down in the record books as the creepiest line of seduction ever. He allegedly said to Phillips: “I’ve been waiting for this since you were 10 years old”. This was “yuck” of the highest order. Phillips, however, didn’t see it that way.
23. She Thought He Was Hot
You might imagine that Phillips’ experience with Jagger was pretty high on the scale of creepiness, but Phillips doesn’t agree. Years later, she said she was "proud" of her conquest, and even mentioned his "perfect" derriere. Apparently sleeping with a man her father’s age wasn’t one of the things that scarred Phillips’ early life.
There are, however, plenty of other harrowing tales.
24. She Couldn’t Leave
Phillips’ partying was out of control—and it got her into some astonishingly frightening situations. Once while at a party in Manhattan, someone lured her to a house full of users. While this may sound like the perfect place for an addicted person like Phillips, it turned out to be a nightmare.
You see, people at the house held Phillips captive and wouldn’t let her leave. This wasn’t just for a few hours, but for several days. Somehow word got out to Phillips’ father, and he sent someone to save her. An armed and dangerous guy named Sal arrived and got Phillips out of there.
25. She Was Incoherent
By 1977, Phillips' heavy substance use was having an effect on her career. Not only was she showing up late for work, but she'd begun slurring her lines. Things came to a nasty head when Phillips got in trouble with the law. Officers detained her and charged her with disorderly misconduct.
The producers at One Day at a Time couldn’t ignore her downward spiral any more: They had to do something with their troubled star. They gave her an ultimatum.
26. They Gave Her Six
The producers of One Day at a Time were irate. They wanted the old Mackenzie Phillips back and told her she had six weeks to sort herself out. They needed to know that Phillips was on board with the show, and that they could rely on her to arrive on time, know her lines and, most importantly, stay out of prison.
Phillips would have six weeks away from the show to sort herself out—but that simply wasn't enough time.
27. She’d Done Nothing
When the folks at One Day at a Time saw that Phillips had done squat to clean up her act, they came up with a solution. The writers married her character off and they sent her to Houston. Sadly, Phillips was off the show. However, the details of her personal life were far more shocking than her termination.
28. He Had A Devious Plan
In 1979, Mackenzie Phillips love life took a jaw-dropping turn. She hastily got engaged to her rock manager, Jeff Sessler—but her father did not approve. The day before her wedding, John Phillips tried to convince his daughter not to walk down the aisle—but the lengths he allegedly went to were downright despicable.
29. She Made A Disturbing Discovery
That night, Mackenzie Phillips blacked out and woke to find herself in a horrifying situation. She was in bed with her father. If you think he was just giving her a good night kiss, think again. This was full on, and Phillips had to deal with the fact that her dad was doing something to her that no dad should ever, ever do.
30. She Made Bad Choices
In spite of this appalling situation, Phillips somehow still went through with her wedding. But that morning would stay with her forever. After waking up next to her father, she had the agonizing task of confronting him and demanding an explanation. Phillips started by accusing her father of forcing himself on her. His response was wild.
The way he saw it, he didn’t force her into anything. He went further into the land of creepiness and said that he and Phillips had “made love”. The obvious choice for Phillips would be to stay as far away from him as possible. No one, however, had ever taught Phillips to make good choices.
31. She Didn’t Stop
Phillips was in shock that her dad thought that what had happened in bed that night was consensual. The heartbreaking thing, though, was that it didn’t stop there. Phillips later told TV talk show guru Oprah Winfrey that she was suffering from Stockholm Syndrome. She knew that what her dad was doing was wrong, but she felt a bond to him.
The two carried on like a couple for close to 10 years. Her father even made an outrageous suggestion, suggesting that they run away to a place where people won’t judge their relationship. Off the top of my head that place would be…nowhere on earth.
Phillips was in a very bad place—and it was about to get worse.
32. She Had One Chance
With what was going on with her father, it’s no wonder that Phillips ramped up her substance use. Because of this, she ended up in the hospital. She had overdosed not once but twice and she’d almost lost her life on both occasions. Luckily, the hospital Phillips went to was actually a treatment center for users. Phillips had one chance to get clean—but could she do it?
33. She Didn’t Last
Phillips did get clean. So clean, in fact, that One Day at a Time wanted her back for its final season. Phillips must have been ecstatic to be back with the cast and back to a quasi-normal life with a regular job. Well, actually she wasn’t. She didn’t even last a year.
In 1982, Phillips was heavily using again, and the show had to finally tell her it was over for good: no more chances. The One Day at a Time ship had sailed. So, who would now hire such a troubled actress? Her dad of course.
34. She Joined Her Father
Phillips' father hired her for the rather pathetic The New Mamas and the Papas. The group toured such esteemed stages like cruise ships, casinos, and state fairs. As a joke, they even decided to cover the theme song for One Day at a Time. Phillips' situation could not have been worse. Her dad was her boss, her supplier, and once again, her lover.
35. She Was Trapped In A Vicious Cycle
While touring with The New Mamas and the Papas, Phillips was stuck. She was always in a haze while performing. During this time, Phillips recalls waking up from almost constant blackouts. She was clearly her father’s daughter, almost incapable of feeling shame. That would, however, come crashing down around her later in her life.
This bizarre relationship continued, until the worst thing possible happened.
36. She Faced A Horrible Fact
So, Mackenzie Phillips had a husband—but was still carried on with her own father on the side. When her doctor told her she was pregnant, Phillips had to face a horrible fact: She wasn’t sure if the father of her child was her husband or her father. Phillips and her father didn’t want to take any chances, so they headed to the clinic to terminate the pregnancy.
John Phillips, in all his kindness, offered to pick up the tab. The only saving grace from this incident was that it finally ended Phillips’ horrid relationship with her father. But if she thought she could lead a normal life—she was sorely mistaken.
37. She Put Her Child's Life At Risk
Somehow, amidst all this chaos, Phillips managed to date and marry her second husband: musician Shane Fontayne. Phillips quickly, and perhaps foolishly, got pregnant. While pregnant, Phillips did something dreadful: She risked her unborn child’s health by continuing with her substance use.
Years later, Phillips had to deal with this fact and said that she can’t dwell on her mistake. She just has to “do better”. Well, “doing better” was still a really long way away for Phillips.
38. She Was Just Like Dad
In spite of her bad behavior, Phillips gave birth to a healthy baby boy who they sweetly named after the father: Shane. Finally, Phillips had a chance at a normal life. Sadly, this hope was quickly and horrifyingly shattered. On one sad occasion, Phillips had a shocking deja vu.
Just like her father had, Phillips was in the middle of using when her son knocked on the door, wanting to get in. This was a huge realization for Phillips: There was no way she was going to become her father. It was a startling wake up call, and it made her try to change.
39. They Wanted Her
After deciding she would not follow in her father’s footsteps, Phillips entered rehab and—big surprise—it actually worked. In fact, she got so sober that even the squeaky clean Disney channel hired her. This was the supernatural show So Weird. There was, however, something “so weird” about this show.
40. So Weird Was So Weird
Coincidentally, Mackenzie Phillips had some things in common with her character in So Weird. She played a musician who had a turbulent relationship with her father. If I’d had Phillips childhood I’d want to steer as clear from as many painful memories as possible. Somehow Phillips survived So Weird, but there were even stranger twists in store for her.
41. She Wanted To Show Off
Phillips was happily living a sober life when, out of the blue, she received a call. Talk show host Rachel Ray wanted to reunite the cast of One Day at a Time. Remember, this was the show she’d left in humiliation over her personal problems. Phillips now had a chance to rise from her disgrace.
She could show her TV family—and America—that she’d beat her demons once and for all. It was going to be a triumphant return, but things in Phillips’ life had a habit of going oh so wrong.
42. She Lapsed
Between getting the call from Rachel Ray and actually doing the show, Mackenzie Phillips had some surgery. The problem was that she experienced serious pain as a result. Like most people, she turned to pain killers, but for her, it was the worst decision imaginable. A decade of sobriety went out the window.
She was suddenly a user again, and the world was about to find out in a huge and humiliating way.
43. She Was Carrying
Now struggling with a relapse, Mackenzie Phillips still had to show up at the One Day at a Time reunion. She headed to the airport and had armed herself with everything she’d need to cope with her pain, her addiction, and with seeing her TV family once again. When officials at the airport looked in her bag, they put a stop to her trip.
The contents of her bag got her into serious trouble.
44. They Took Her Away
As airport authorities took her away in handcuffs, Mackenzie Phillips realized she wasn't going to make it to the One Day at a Time reunion. Her triumphant return was not going to happen. Later, Phillips ended up in court, where she admitted to carrying the banned substances. She then nervously awaited the judge’s sentence.
As it turned out she was lucky. She wouldn’t end up behind bars, but somewhere actually helpful: rehab. The judge told her that if she could successfully complete rehab, she would be a free woman.
45. She Told All
Phillips’ time in rehab was a huge success. She had beat her addiction and was ready to tell her story to the world. In 2009, she released her memoir High on Arrival. Phillips didn’t hold back. She told the world about her harrowing fight with addiction. She also told us something more.
Phillips outlined her ten-year inappropriate relationship with her father, who had passed in 2001. Once the book was out there, Phillips had to wait nervously for the response.
46. Her Friend Backed Her Up
Phillips' sister Chynna says she believes Phillips’ story. She’s not sure if her dad forced himself on Phillips, but she is sure they had an intimate relationship that often ended up in the bedroom. Her TV sister also offered her support, but found out about it in a remarkable way.
When Phillips was on Oprah and talking about her scandalous relationship with her dad, Bertinelli was backstage and heard it for the first time from there. When she heard Phillips’ story, Bertinelli surprised the audience by interrupting the segment and offering her support to Phillips: "I had no idea what you've been through. I feel regret that I wasn't there for you as much as I could have been..."
Bertinelli didn’t for a second question Phillips’ sincerity. But not everyone was quite so kind.
47. She Blamed The Needles
Of course, Phillips’ book caused a lot of controversy and it wouldn’t take long for people to cast some doubt as to its authenticity. Michelle Phillips, her stepmother, said that she did not believe that the actress had a relationship with her father.
She heartlessly blamed Phillips' mental illness, saying she “had a needle stuck up her arm for 35 years". Michelle went even further and said that Phillips felt jealous of her siblings for accomplishing so much. The judgment, however, didn’t stop there.
48. Audiences Doubted her
Sadly, Phillips also received judgment via the media. One entertainment show actually hired a body language expert to watch Phillips while she told her story to Oprah. They told the expert to try to decipher if Phillips was lying or not.
Phillips was beyond angry and later said that if her confessions about her father had come out during the era of #metoo, slimy behavior like this never would have happened. Thankfully, Phillips rose above the media hype and finally got her triumphant return to television.
49. She Came Back
Just when Mackenzie Phillips thought the entire world was against her, she got a call. They were remaking One Day at a Time and the producers wanted her for a small part. This was in 2017, and the show wasn’t above using a little irony in the role they chose for Phillips. On the reboot, Phillips played a counselor. However, she's also a counselor in real life.
50. She Helps Others
Mackenzie Phillips works at Breathe Life Healing Centers as an addiction counselor and helps others who face situations similar to hers. She also has written a self help book called Hopeful Healing. I’m sure Phillips—considering her horrible past—can easily relate to her patients.
Just imagine having Mackenzie Phillips herself tell you that you just need to face your addiction one day at a time.