Taking It One Day at a Time With Mackenzie Phillips

Although it might seem like being the child of a rockstar would be the coolest thing in the world, that hasn’t been the case for Mackenzie Phillips. As the daughter of The Mamas & the Papas founder John Phillips and his first wife Susan Adams, Mackenzie had plenty of opportunities that most people only dream of.

John Phillips, Mackenzie Phillips / Mackenzie Phillips / Mackenzie Phillips / John Phillips.
Source: Getty Images

She started acting by the time she was 12, but darkness lay ahead for Mackenzie. Everyone who watched her throughout the ‘70s and ‘80s thought she had it all. However, she hid her addictions and a decades-long incestuous relationship with her father. Mackenzie’s life has been a real-life tragedy.

Who Is Mackenzie Phillips’ Mother?

Born in Alexandria, Virginia, to musician John Phillips and his first wife, Susan Stuart Adams, Mackenzie Phillips never had a stable home. When she was two, her father ditched their family for a 16-year-old, leaving Adams to care for two small children. Her mom supported them by getting a job at the Pentagon.

A dated portrait of John Phillips and his new wife, Michelle.
John Phillips, Michelle Phillips. Photo by Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

As John and his new wife got famous with The Mamas & the Papas, Adams decided to move to LA so Mackenzie and her brother could be closer to their dad. During the week, they stayed with Adams in a small condo, and on the weekends, their lives were completely different.

Living a Double Life

For five days a week, Mackenzie and her brother Jeffrey were like every other child in their neighborhood. They had a relatively stable childhood with their mom that would turn into wild, drug-filled weekends when they went to their father’s Bel Air mansion. A limo would pull into their modest neighborhood to wisk Mackenzie and Jeffrey away.

A portrait of Mackenzie with her mother.
Source: Instagram /@mackphillips

The difference between her parents’ lives was massive. Mackenzie said it wasn’t just about being spoiled by John’s wife, but they had virtually no rules on the weekends. It was like they lived a double life. It was like living at Disneyland and having to return to a boring condo when the weekend was over.

Early Addictions

From a young age, Mackenzie became desensitized to out-of-control behavior and inappropriate things at her father’s house. John didn’t try to hide his partying antics from his children. He taught Mackenzie to roll a joint when she was ten, and she became the official joint roller for the adults.

A dated portrait of Mackenzie Phillips.
Photo by Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

By 11, Mackenzie discovered her dad’s cocaine stash. She was an innocent kid who wanted to be just like her dad, so she snuck into his silver box and took a baggy of the white powder to school. She started experimenting with small amounts and eventually upped her game.

Her Big Break

Besides doing drugs, Mackenzie followed in her father’s footsteps by forming a band with three classmates when she was 12. She was spotted by a casting agent during one of their performances and landed an audition for the 1973 film American Graffiti. Mackenzie got the part and went to San Francisco by herself.

A still of Mackenzie in the film American Graffiti.
Source: YouTube

When producer Gary Kurtz picked Mackenzie up at the airport, he asked where her parents were. She said, “I don’t know. My mom just put me on a plane.” For the duration of the film, she lived with Kurtz. Her parents didn’t care, but American Graffiti helped Mackenzie launch her acting career.

Fame and Fortune

After American Graffiti, Mackenzie landed the role of Julie Cooper on the series One Day at a Time. As the boy-crazy teenager, she took home about $50,000 (equal to $240,400 today) each week. It was a lot of money for a 15-year-old, and the fame was overwhelming.

Mackenzie poses alongside fellow One Day at Time cast members.
Source: Wikimedia Commons

With loads of money and no boundaries, Mackenzie’s childhood experimentation with drugs escalated. She struggled to have a relationship with her parents, making her dive deeper into a dark place. The first signs of trouble came in November 1977.

A Birthday to Forget

Around her 18th birthday, Mackenzie was arrested for disorderly conduct. The police found her “semiconscious” in West Hollywood with a straw containing a small amount of cocaine. She said it was a misunderstanding but received six months of probation. Mackenzie also had to see a psychotherapist.

A studio portrait of Mackenzie Phillips.
Source: Wikipedia

Even after the arrest, her drug use continued. Mackenzie would show up late to the set and was incoherent during rehearsals for One Day at a Time. The cast didn’t want to work with her anymore because it was too difficult. The producers warned Mackenzie to clean up her act.

A Break Didn’t Help

Mackenzie’s colleagues noticed her hoarse voice, extreme weight loss, and chronic exhaustion as a result of her cocaine abuse. The show’s producers ordered her to take six weeks off to pull herself together and get clean. When she returned, the situation did not improve.

A still of Mackenzie in an episode from the show.
Source: YouTube

She was then given an ultimatum: Mackenzie could either voluntarily leave “for personal reasons” or be publicly fired. In 1980, she released a statement that her exit was by “mutual agreement.” Her manager downplayed her drug use to the media, but her costars didn’t hold back.

Invited Back

If being fired from One Day at a Time wasn’t enough, Mackenzie had two near-fatal overdoses. She voluntarily checked herself into Fair Oaks Hospital for rehab and completed the program in 1981. The show’s producers invited her back once she was clean, but she relapsed.

A dated picture of Mackenzie by a pool.
Photo by Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

Her drug addiction was out of control, and she collapsed on the set in 1982. Mackenzie refused to take a drug test, so they fired her again. Her character was then written out of the show, so she didn’t have the option to return.

A Whirlwind Marriage

Shortly before leaving One Day at a Time, Mackenzie married music producer Jeff Sessler in 1979. She was only 19, and their marriage lasted just a few months. Mackenzie and Sessler’s divorce was finalized by 1980. She said her drugged-out mind led her to rush to the altar.

A portrait of Jeff Sessler / A picture of Mackenzie.
Source: Pinterest / Photo by Michael Ochs Archives, Getty Images

She thought she was in love, but it was the drugs talking. Mackenzie was bitter after the divorce because Sessler wanted her money when he only put $800 into the marriage. She felt ripped off by the situation and resented him.

Taking It for Granted

When Mackenzie was fired, she thought she could easily get another job. It didn’t seem like a big loss, but she had already dug her grave. The drugs were expensive, so she needed to make money. But Mackenzie couldn’t get an audition because of her reputation.

A portrait of Mackenzie Phillips at home.
Photo by G. Davis/IMAGES/Getty Images

She was blacklisted because of her behavior on One Day at a Time, and her life crumbled. Since she didn’t have a job, she was home every day, which caused tension in her marriage. Sessler became abusive, so she ended it.

A Horrific Evening

Everyone knew Sessler was bad news. Mackenzie’s father had showed up at her hotel the night before her wedding to stop her from making a bad decision. Instead of having a deep conversation, they got high, and she blacked out. When Mackenzie came to, she couldn’t believe what was happening.

A portrait of John Phillips and Mackenzie Phillips.
Photo by Robin Platzer/Images/Getty Images

John was on top of her, and they were having sex. Mackenzie felt powerless and blacked out again. After the incident, she didn’t speak to her father for months because he didn’t think there was anything wrong with what he had done.

He Sent Her to Rehab

She saw her dad on and off over the next few years, and he encouraged Mackenzie to go to rehab again when her drug problem worsened. Mackenzie thought he was hypocritical because his addiction was worse than hers, but she went anyway.

A studio portrait of Mackenzie Phillips.
Photo by Harry Langdon/Getty Images

Mackenzie went to the treatment program reluctantly, but she had no intention of changing her ways. Once she left rehab, she started using again. Her life was spiraling into a dark place, but no one around her did anything to help her.

A Tragic Loss

Mackenzie was always close with her cousin Patty, who was six years older. Patty was like a sister to her and someone Mackenzie looked up to. She also had a drug problem, but she masked it well. What happened to Patty could have happened to Mackenzie several times.

A picture of Mackenzie performing on stage.
Photo by Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images

On June 9, 1980, Mackenzie was in the recording studio when she found out Patty had died. She was drugged at a party, and it caused her to overdose. Mackenzie was devastated, so she got so high she couldn’t remember the funeral.

It Should Have Been a Wake-Up Call

Patty’s death should have been a wake-up call for Mackenzie, but it did nothing. She continued to take any drugs she could get her hands on, and she overdosed again. When Mackenzie woke up in the ICU, she got high within hours of leaving the hospital.

A portrait of Mackenzie during a party.
Photo by Ron Galella/Ron Galella Collection/Getty Images

Although she nearly died, Mackenzie was too focused on the other stressful things going on in her life. She was doing everything to make sure she didn’t feel any emotions. She didn’t remember feeling scared for herself or scared of death.

Her Dad Was Arrested

It had been a year of marriage, divorce, rehab, relapse, and death. Something needed to happen to bring her family together, and unfortunately, it was her father’s arrest. He was charged with trafficking narcotics and faced 45 years in prison. She was scared and upset.

Denny Doherty and John Phillips attend a party after a show.
Photo by Ron Galella, Ltd./Wireimage/Getty Images

It wasn’t exactly a wake-up call, but Mackenzie and her family came together to help John. His lawyers got the sentence reduced, and he immediately went into rehab. John then called Mackenzie so she would seek treatment too. She was reluctant at first but eventually caved.

Developing a New Addiction

When her father took his sobriety seriously, he helped Mackenzie recover. She attended a day patient facility in New Jersey, but it didn’t fully help her. Although she wasn’t using drugs, she started drinking excessively because it was allowed in the program.

An image of Mackenzie in a bar in New York.
Photo by Ron Galella/Ron Galella Collection/Getty Images

She stayed in a house with her father, brother, stepmom, half-siblings, and three counselors from the treatment facility. Mackenzie and her father used alcohol to fill the void that cocaine left. Despite relying on alcohol, she felt like her family was whole for the first time.

Anti-Drug Publicity

Upon finishing her six-week treatment, Mackenzie became a youth counselor in the adolescent ward of the hospital. Her father was also “recovered,” so they operated a cocaine hotline together. She and John started doing a lot of anti-drug publicity.

Mackenzie poses with John Phillips, her half-brother, and John's wife, Genevieve Waite.
Genevieve Waite, Tamerlane, John Phillips, Mackenzie Phillips. Photo by Art Zelin/Getty Images

The media loved it, and People magazine put Mackenzie and John on the cover for kicking their drug habits. They traveled around the country to share their heartwarming story of shared recovery. John saw it as a money-making opportunity and wanted to take advantage of the situation.

Who Is Mackenzie Phillips’ Father?

John Phillip started The Mamas & the Papas in the ‘60s. When the band officially broke up in 1971, he thought it was the end. However, the publicity from his anti-drug campaign gave him the idea to get the band back together.

A dated portrait of John Phillips.
Source: Wikipedia

He couldn’t bring his former partner Cass Elliot back from the dead, and Michelle had moved on, so John created a new version of the band. Mackenzie always wanted to be a musician, so she asked to join. She thought it would be a great way to be with her dad, make music, and earn money.

A Bad Influence

Mackenzie’s manager was against her joining the new group. Pat McQueeney had done so much damage control throughout Mackenzie’s career, and she thought John was a bad influence who would undo all of Mackenzie’s hard work. McQueeney believed if John hadn’t been around, Mackenzie wouldn’t have spiraled.

An image of John Phillips performing on stage.
Photo by Jeff Hochberg/Getty Images

John felt threatened by McQueeney, so he told Mackenzie to fire her. Even though she knew it was a mistake, she fired her manager. She would have done anything for her dad, even if it was a horrible decision. Now, no one could stop her from joining the band.

The New Mamas & The Papas

The new group consisted of Mackenzie, John, Denny Doherty, and Spanky McFarlane. They started recording new songs, and after four months of rehearsing, it was time for their first performance. The show was a success, and the new band started touring across the country.

Mackenzie performs on stage.
Photo by Paul Natkin/Getty Images

The national tour turned into a worldwide tour. Mackenzie said they weren’t perfect, but they were determined to fulfill a demand. They played on cruise ships, at state fairs, and in several shows in Vegas. The busy schedule and pressure to perform pushed Mackenzie to relapse.

She Was Kidnapped

When Mackenzie fell back into the drug scene, she would start the night with friends and end up with a group of strangers. When she went out with her friends, Mackenzie ended up with a bad group of people. She woke up naked, and the men wouldn’t let her go.

A studio portrait of Mackenzie during an interview.
Photo by Carlo Allegri/Getty Images

She was trapped with these men for days, and they kept drugging her. After almost a week, her dad’s friend came to her rescue and saved her. Mackenzie knew that bad things happened when people lived like her, and it only got worse.

A New Relationship

When the band started looking for a new guitarist, Mick Barakan came to the studio. He was hired, and Mackenzie had the hots for him. Although he was married when he joined the group, that didn’t stop Mick and Mackenzie from starting a relationship.

A photo of Mackenzie and her son, Shane Barakan.
Mackenzie Phillips, Shane Barakan. Photo by Gregg DeGuire/WireImage/Getty Images

He comforted her when she needed him, and they stayed together even when Mick quit the band. Mackenzie said he was patient, kind, forgiving, and the greatest love of her life. However, he didn’t know what was happening between Mackenzie and John.

Her Father Did It Again

One night after a performance, Mackenzie was high − like most nights on tour. When the band returned to their hotel, she didn’t remember exactly what happened, but she woke up in her father’s room with her pants down. She was scared to find out how she got there.

Mackenzie speaks during an interview.
Photo by Noel Vasquez/Getty Images

Mackenzie wanted to forget that night, but it became a frequent pattern. She would regularly wake up in her dad’s room with her pants around her ankles. After each performance, Mackenzie would go to John’s room to get pills, and the nights became blurry.

What Happened to Mackenzie Phillips?

She didn’t know why she kept going back to his room. Mackenzie was repulsed by what was happening, but she wanted the pills. Every time, Mackenzie would wake up in her father’s bed, knowing they had slept together but not wanting the memories to see the light of day.

A portrait of Mackenzie and John Phillips.
Photo by Yvonne Hemsey/Getty Images

Mackenzie knew it wasn’t consensual sex, but it became her routine with John. It was sick and twisted, but the drugs were winning. Her dad didn’t see a problem with what they were doing because no one protested it, so it wasn’t an issue.

A Pregnancy Brought Things to An End

There is no way of knowing how long John would have continued taking advantage of Mackenzie had it not been for her unsettling discovery. In 1990, Mackenzie found out she was pregnant. She was still dating Mick while sleeping with her father.

Mackenzie and her half-sister Bijou Phillips attend an event.
Photo by Steve Eichner/Getty Images

Mackenzie didn’t know if the father was John or her husband. Her dad paid for her to have an abortion, and she promised herself that she would never let John touch her again. Mackenzie decided to stop speaking to her dad, and she quit the band.

He Thought They Were in Love

According to Mackenzie, John thought the two were in love. He even suggested they run away to a country where people wouldn’t judge the relationship. John wanted to take the children and raise them as their own as if he and Mackenzie were husband and wife.

John Phillips poses for a photo with his daughter Mackenzie.
Photo by Yvonne Hemsey/Getty Images

Mackenzie adored her father and constantly tried to get his attention. However, when her father made it romantic, it scared her. Mackenzie said it was a wake-up call, but she didn’t know how to get out until the pregnancy.

Was It the Truth or a Lie?

When Mackenzie revealed the affair on The Oprah Winfrey Show in 2009, Genevieve Waite, John’s third wife, denied the allegations. She said it was inconsistent with his character. Michelle Phillips, his second wife, also stated that she had “every reason to believe it was untrue.”

Genevieve Waite and her daughter pose for the press.
Genevieve Waite, Bijou Phillips. Photo by Ethan Miller/Getty Images

While some said it was a lie, Mackenzie’s half-sister, Chynna Phillips, said she believed her claims because Mackenzie had confided in Chynna about the relationship. Denny Doherty also knew about the affair, and he was “horrified at what John had done.”

It Tore the Family Apart

It is hard to imagine how Mackenzie’s family felt when she revealed the truth to the world. Her family didn’t want to believe that John could hurt his daughter. Bijou, Mackenzie’s other half-sister, blamed her for ruining her relationship with their father.

A portrait of Bijou Phillips.
Bijou Phillips. Photo by Michael Tran/FilmMagic/Getty Images

Bijou was still young when Mackenzie told her about the affair. She said she moved out of the house at 13, started doing drugs, and stopped talking to John. Bijou doesn’t believe Mackenzie’s story; she believes that “Our father is many things, this is not one of them.”

Why Did She Tell the World?

When Mackenzie wrote about the incestuous relationship in her book “High on Arrival” and shared the story with Oprah, it had been almost 20 years since the affair ended. However, she wanted to share the horrific tale because it weighed on her.

A still of Mackenzie on the set of Oprah.
Source: YouTube

It became hard to carry around this awful secret. Mackenzie told Oprah, “I can’t be the only person to who [sic] this happened. Someone needs to put a face on consensual incest.” It relieved her when she finally told the world, and she started healing.

She Had a Child Before the Abortion

In 1986, Mick and Mackenzie weren’t formally broken up, but they started to grow apart. He moved out of their apartment, and Mackenzie moved in with her friend Amanda, who was also her drug dealer. They were doing drugs night and day.

A photo of Mackenzie performing on stage.
Photo by Rick Eglinton/Toronto/Getty Images

Mackenzie realized she hadn’t gotten her period for a while, so she went to the doctor and found out she was pregnant. Although the affair with her father was still happening at the time, she knew the father was Mick and wanted to have the baby.

A Drug-Filled Pregnancy

Although she knew it was wrong, the pregnancy didn’t stop her from shooting cocaine. She would go to the doctor pretending to be sick just to steal needles. Mackenzie knew she was hurting her child, but she couldn’t stop. She lied to everyone.

A studio portrait of Mackenzie.
Photo by Harry Langdon/Getty Images

Her dad arranged for her to fly to New York so that he could help her during her pregnancy. However, his driver took her to the hospital to detox when she landed. The doctor suggested Mackenzie consider adoption, but she wanted to keep the baby.

She Stayed Clean

After spending time in the hospital, Mackenzie stopped using drugs for the remainder of her pregnancy. Her father got her a house in New York, but he was on tour with his band, and Mick was also away with his group. Mackenzie was alone but stayed strong.

Mackenzie performs on stage.
Photo by John Atashian/Getty Images

On February 3, 1987, she gave birth to her son, Shane Barakan. Because Mick and her father were away, her doctor let Mackenzie and Shane live with him and his family. When Mick returned, they moved into their own house. They didn’t do drugs and tried to be good parents.


When Shane was a few months old, Mackenzie went back on tour with The Mamas & the Papas. She had no willpower and relapsed again. She hid the drugs from Mick, who was always trying to help her stay clean. He believed Mackenzie’s lies and took care of Shane.

An image of Mackenzie during a concert.
Photo by Ron Galella/Ron Galella Collection/Getty Images

Mackenzie’s drug problem escalated again. While on tour, she had cocaine delivered to her hotel; it would be waiting at the front desk when she arrived. Mackenzie wanted to be a good parent, but she couldn’t stop doing drugs.

She Needed Help

When Shane was four, Mackenzie was still using drugs. Mick was at his breaking point with her, and she realized that she needed help. Mackenzie saw how much she was hurting her son because it was the same way she had felt as a child.

A portrait of Mackenzie with her son.
Photo by Ron Galella/Ron Galella Collection/Getty Images

She called the doctor who helped her father get treatment years earlier, and he found her a rehab facility. Mackenzie was in detox for two weeks. She struggled and called a dealer to bring her drugs to rehab, but it ended poorly. She thought it was the last time.

Her Decade of Sobriety Ended

After finally getting fully sober in 1991, Mackenzie relapsed around 2001. The combination of her dad’s death and receiving prescription painkillers after surgery presented a setback. When her doctor cut Mackenzie off from the pills, she called her drug dealer.

A headshot of Mackenzie.
Photo by J. P. Aussenard/WireImage/Getty Images

The relapse brought her to what Mackenzie described as “the darkest time in my life.” She lived to get high, which was a horrible way to go about life. However, once she started again, it was too hard to stop. She had to hit rock bottom.

A Sad but Pivotal Moment

Mackenzie thought she had hit rock bottom many times before, but this was truly her lowest point. In 2008, she was supposed to fly to New York, but she never made it on the plane because she was arrested for possession of cocaine.

Mackenzie attends an event.
Photo by David Livingston/Getty Images

She was arrested and charged with drug possession. Mackenzie had gotten sober before, and she knew she could do it again. The arrest was like a sign from the universe to change her life for good. It caused Mackenzie to wake up and realize she couldn’t go on like that.


A few months after the arrest, Mackenzie pled guilty to the charges. She told the judge, “I’d like to thank law enforcement for stopping me and probably saving my life.” She enrolled in a treatment program. The judge stipulated that if she completed the 18 months, the charges would be dropped.

Mackenzie’s photo is on a police file.
Source: YouTube

The judge was incredibly proud of her progress in rehab and told her it would be a lifelong battle. However, this was different because she didn’t relapse like all the times before. She had been in and out of rehab 11 times and didn’t want to return.

Her Dad’s Death Left Unresolved Issues

When John passed away in 2001, it pushed Mackenzie to write her memoir and reveal her dark secret. She visited him every day in the hospital even though he was unconscious. She never got to ask him why he had done what he did to her?

A portrait of John Phillips.
Photo by Marc Marnie/Redferns/Getty Images

Although she said the relationship was “consensual,” she came to realize it was more like Stockholm syndrome. Mackenzie was groomed to believe that she wanted to sleep with her dad. She was angry that she never got answers but eventually forgave him.

Struggling With Her Mom

Throughout her life, Mackenzie’s relationship with her mom was strained. Adams had dementia towards the end of her life, and Mackenzie said, “I was disappointed that she wasn’t who she used to be.” She said she needed her mom because she felt helpless.

Mackenzie speaks during an interview.
Source: ABC News

It was a very different experience from her father’s death. Mackenzie was with her mom the day she passed away. She said her mom loved powerfully and died after being sober for 18 years. Mackenzie honors her by maintaining her own recovery. Mackenzie only had love for her mom in the end.

The New Mackenzie Phillips

Mackenzie used drugs since she was ten. After decades of drug-fueled darkness and failing to stay sober, she finally stuck with it. Mackenzie realized she could take what she learned from her years of addiction and help others.

Mackenzie attends an event.
Photo by Gustavo Caballero/Getty Images

In 2014, she started working as a drug rehab counselor for the Pasadena Recovery Center. The woman who snuck drugs into rehab facilities and refused to get clean for so long was now helping others with their journey to recovery. It was a fresh start for Mackenzie.

An Unconventional Approach

As a rehab counselor, Mackenzie has a different approach to helping people. She combines mindfulness, kundalini yoga, and psychodrama elements to support her patients. She believes that diet is a critical factor in sobriety and promotes clean eating during the process

A portrait of Mackenzie.
Photo by Mirek Towski/FilmMagic/Getty Images

Mackenzie learned through her own journey that you are what you put into your body, and “people need serious nutrition when they are getting clean.” She stated that eating processed foods won’t help those trying to reclaim their lives. This approach has helped Mackenzie and many recovering addicts.

Getting Back to Acting

She came to fame with her role on the original One Day at a Time, and the show was picked up for a reboot. In 2017, Mackenzie had a guest role on Netflix’s version of the series as Pam Valentine. She played the leader of a women’s veteran therapy group.

A still of Mackenzie in Orange Is the New Black.
Source: Netflix

Mackenzie reprised the role in 2019 for two more episodes in the show’s third season. She also appeared as Barbara Denning in a few episodes of Netflix’s Orange Is the New Black. Mackenzie hasn’t had any major roles in decades.

How Old Is Mackenzie Phillips?

Mackenzie is now 62 years old. She is alive and well, and she is still sober. Although she hasn’t had an acting role in the past few years, Mackenzie is focusing on helping others.

A picture of Mackenzie and her former costar Valerie Bertinelli.
Photo by Lester Cohen/WireImage/Getty Images

She went back to school to become a rehab counselor and has found gratitude through her work. Mackenzie said it took her a long time to realize she couldn’t carry other people’s shame. She learned to love herself and has found peace.

A Hopeful Future

Since she got sober, Mackenzie published two memoirs about her life and recovery. Despite her struggles, she stayed devoted to her son and supported his talent. Shane knew about his mother’s past drug use and is adamant about staying away from those habits.

Mackenzie takes a picture with her son in a restaurant.
Source: Instagram /@mackphillips

Mackenzie launched a podcast called America Recovers to talk about recovery. She said she didn’t struggle with her sobriety during the pandemic, and it gave her time to slow down and be more present in her home. Mackenzie is happy and healthy and looks forward to her sober future.