American actor and singer Mackenzie Phillips’ life has been a roller coaster ride of extreme highs and lows. The troubled star who managed to achieve stardom by the young age of 12 has had a rough ride ever since, with drug addiction putting her through the wringer.
Mackenzie was born to fame and limelight as the daughter of folk music legend John Phillips. Unfortunately, John passed on a lot more to Mackenzie than a name that could give her a stepping stone to success – exposure to a terrible lifestyle and drug abuse being the foremost.
As an actor, Mackenzie Phillips had the potential to be the next big thing in Hollywood, but her drug addiction dragged her down before she could even scratch the surface of all she could be. Phillips’ woes started early in life with her parents separating when she was three, after which she lived a life where she was pulled into two different worlds – her socialite mother’s normal one and her rockstar father’s one of debauchery.
Phillips started doing drugs when she was only 10, and by 18, she was too far down the self-destruction spiral. Her addiction cost her biggest claim to fame – her role as Julie Cooper on the sitcom One Day at a Time.
Mackenzie Phillips was born to the folk music legend John Phillips and his first wife Susan Adams in 1959. Her early years were mostly spent juggling homes between the two parents after their separation. While many children from broken homes manage to grow up well, this wasn’t the case for Mackenzie. Her mother Susan tried to raise her as decently as any parent could, but it seems her father John didn’t feel this was his moral obligation too.
John Phillips was a famed musician by his mid-20s, and as the leader of the folk-rock vocal group The Mamas and the Papas, he became quite the celebrity. Little Mackenzie was exposed to John’s lifestyle of alcohol, drugs, and sex right from the start, and it went as poorly as one can imagine. Under John’s influence, Mackenzie had learned how to roll a joint by the time she was 10, tried cocaine by the time she was 11, and lost her virginity by the time she was 12. To say young Mackenzie was on the road to disaster would be an understatement. By the time she entered her teen years, she was practically hooked to drugs and drowning in alcohol.
Looking back at her early drug addiction problem on The Oprah Winfrey Show, Mackenzie Phillips said she was predisposed to it. She disclosed that her family had a long history of mental illness, alcoholism, and addiction, so she felt there was a genetic link to it all. She also added that her early exposure to such substances played a role in her behavior, stating her younger self believed such things to be normal and some sort of rite of passage.
While alcohol and drugs found Phillips at an early age, so did work. Twelve-year-old Phillips had formed a band with three of her classmates, and a casting agent noticed their performance. The agent got her an audition for American Graffiti, and the rest, as they say, is history.
Phillips was 13 when the 1973 coming of age comedy American Graffiti released, shooting her to fame overnight. Less than two years later, she bagged a role in the CBS sitcom One Day at a Time, which would make her a star in the true sense. Phillips played the role of the boy-crazy Julie Cooper on the show, and money and fame came rolling in.
For someone so familiar with debauchery from an early age, it isn’t surprising that Phillips didn’t handle the attention well. Her appetite for drugs was at an all-time high, and of course, the big paychecks from One Day at a Time made it easy for her to score. Phillips was earning roughly $50,000 a week during the show, which is approx. $250,000 today.
Phillips was first arrested before she even turned 18; she was found passed out by some street in Los Angeles, high on Quaaludes. John Phillips’ reaction to her arrest was mind-boggling – he congratulated her as if she had finally become an adult. On the work front, she was somehow getting by the shoots for One Day at a Time. However, by the third season, she was arrested for cocaine possession.
John Phillips’s behavior seems consistent with a negligent and irresponsible father, but years later, Mackenzie claimed he was much, much worse. In her memoir, she claimed John had raped her when she had blacked out, and that too the night before her wedding. Continue watching to know the whole story, and how others reacted to her claims.
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How She Lost Her Role in One Day at a Time
In an interview with TV Guide, Phillips said everyone around her was concerned and wanted to help. She confessed her parents, aunt, manager, and show producers were all pushing her to get clean, but she wouldn’t listen. They even sent her to facilities, but she wouldn’t commit. The last straw was when her father sent her to a hospital on the East Coast, from where she left against medical advice. Phillips ran to New York and started shacking up with someone who shed just met. The guy taught her how to use needles – pushing her in the deep end. Phillips was then injecting cocaine into her bloodstream every 15 minutes.
Of course, Phillips’s downward spiral was bound to affect her career. Her performance and fame from One Day at a Time brought in plenty of offers, of which she couldn’t accept any since she was in no state to do anything. Even on set, she was often late, out of sorts, or even napping. Her extreme drug abuse was now evident on her body as well. Phillips suddenly lost weight and became skinny. Her behavior was also a concern on set for her co-stars. Eventually, producers asked her to get clean and gave her a six-week leave of absence in 1980, at the end of which they had to fire her.
Meanwhile, John Phillips continued on his own downward spiral with heroin addiction. He was arrested in 1980 for illegal bartering of drugs, for which he plead guilty. He served a month of prison time, after which he checked himself into Fair Oaks psychiatric hospital to get clean. It was then that John kept calling Mackenzie, convincing her to join him. It took a while since Mackenzie was in denial about her drug problem, but she eventually joined him. By this time, she had already had two fatal cases of overdose.
Dr. Mark Gold, who treated both father and daughter at Fair Oaks, said Mackenzie was ‘pitiful,’ she had shrunk from malnutrition and was so weak that walking was an effort. After a lot of therapy, Mackenzie came out clean. Producers at One Day at a Time heard of Mackenzie turning a new leaf and gave her a call, and of course, she was thrilled to be given a second chance, which is how she re-joined the show by fall 1981. Producers and co-stars were all very welcoming to Mackenzie despite her drug-induced behavior the previous year.
But Mackenzie Philips’ clean slate didn’t stay clean for too long. By 1983, she was again hooked and one of the producers caught her napping on set. She demanded Philips undergo a drug test, and Phillips refused, which eventually led to her being axed from the show and this time permanently.
Phillips’ life then untethered. She took up a few projects that came her way – nothing too exciting, and from the mid-80s to mid-90s, she performed with the revamped version of The Mamas and the Papas, which was named The New Mamas and Papas.
The Final Fight
In 1992, Phillips decided to give sobriety another chance. She enrolled in a long-term rehab program and therapy for nine months. Things again went well for a while. She managed to bag a recurring role on Disney’s So Weird from 1999 to 2001.
But somewhere down the line, Philips again caved and started abusing drugs. In 2008, Los Angeles Airport Police arrested her for drug possessions – this time her poisons were heroin and cocaine both. Phillips pled guilty and was sentenced to join a rehab program.
Mackenzie Phillips claims she’s been sober ever, but agrees she takes it one day at a time. In an interview a year after the program, she started volunteering as a counselor. She felt her position as a celebrity made her more relatable than normal guidance counselors. She even added that celebrities need to be more accountable for how they inadvertently market alcohol and drugs. Dr. Gold from Fair Oaks said that several celebrities who did beat drug addiction kept their sobriety a secret in fear that it may ruin their public image.
High On Arrival
Mackenzie’s struggle with drugs is all that most people knew of her for a long time till she came out with her memoir High On Arrival. And one particular piece of information shocked family, friends, and fans more than anything else. Mackenzie claimed she had an incestuous relationship with her father, which began in 1979, the night before she wed her first husband Jeff Sessler.
After the release of Mackenzie’s memoir, she appeared on The Oprah Winfrey Show. During the interview, she said woke up from a blackout to find her father raping her. She was so shocked she only got around to asking why he did it months later, to which he denied he raped her, but said ‘they made love.’ After that first night, Mackenzie claims she had a consensual sexual relationship with her father, which ended when she got pregnant and then had an abortion.
Hearing of these allegations, John Phillips’ two other wives apart from Mackenzie’s mom claimed she was lying for publicity. However, Mackenzie’s half-sister, Chynna Philips, said she believed it to be true since Mackenzie had already told her the story much before the talk of a memoir.
Even though Mackenzie Phillips’ story is a common one of celebrities getting carried away with fame and money, it’s especially sad because she barely had a chance to live before drugs took hold. There’s no denying that she had immense potential as an actor, her performance in earlier productions, such as American Graffiti, is a testament to her skill. If you haven’t seen any of her hay day performances and would like to see something more recent, we recommend catching up on a few episodes of Orange Is the New Black‘s sixth season, in which she plays Barbara Denning.
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