Inside The Rocky Relationship Between Mackenzie Phillips And Her Stepmother Michelle

The following article includes mentions of incest, sexual assault, and drug addiction.

Mackenzie Phillips and Michelle Phillips' relationship stretches back to Mackenzie's childhood. Mackenzie was born in 1959, the daughter of John Phillips and Susan Adams, his first wife. Three years later, her parents divorced, and John married Michelle. By the mid-1960s, the couple made music history with The Mamas and the Papas.  Michelle and John had one child, Chynna Phillips, before separating in 1969 and later divorcing. 

Starting in the 1970s, Mackenzie and her stepmother both had acting careers. As a child, Mackenzie was cast in "American Graffiti" and starred on TV in "One Day at a Time." Unfortunately, struggles with drug addiction sidelined Mackenzie's career for a time.

In 2009, Mackenzie released "High on Arrival." While the memoir detailed Mackenzie's struggles with drug addiction, some of that information was already public. Mackenzie had been arrested in 1977 and 2008 on charges of drug possession. What was unexpected were Mackenzie's allegations of an incestuous relationship with John. 

Mackenzie explained her father raped her when she was under the influence of drugs. "I woke up that night from a blackout to find myself having sex with my own father," she read from the book on "The Oprah Winfrey Show." Mackenzie equated the situation to Stockholm Syndrome as these encounters continued over ten years and she said it morphed into a consensual relationship. "No matter what kind of incest it is, it is an abuse of power," she clarified. "Consensual or otherwise, it is a betrayal of trust." Mackenzie's admission created a wedge between her and Michelle, who responded with anger over her stepdaughter's claims.

Mackenzie and Michelle Phillips were estranged for 13 years

In 2016, Mackenzie Phillips reflected that when she publicly divulged her incestuous relationship with her father, John Phillips, she thought her family would support her with unconditional love.  She wasn't prepared for Michelle's acerbic reaction. 

"John was a bad parent and a drug addict," Michelle admitted to Showbiz411. However, she was incredulous about Mackenzie's incest claims. "Mackenzie has a lot of mental illness," she added, asserting her stepdaughter's revelation was a publicity stunt. "Mackenzie is jealous of her siblings, who have accomplished a lot and did not become drug addicts." In particular, Michelle expressed concern for her daughter Chynna Phillips, Mackenzie's half-sister. At the time, the Wilson Phillips singer was debuting her album of Christian music. 

Even so, Michelle had her own uncomfortable memories of John. Although her 1986 memoir focused on their positive experiences,  Michelle disclosed in 2007 that in one instance, John assaulted her and she required hospitalization for her injuries. In 2022, Michelle further noted John misrepresented the incident in his own memoir, alleging that it was far less physically damaging than what she experienced. 

Also in 2022, after years of estrangement, Michelle and Mackenzie unexpectedly reconciled when they both attended the Hollywood Walk of Fame ceremony for the late Cass Elliot, Michelle and John's bandmate in The Mamas and the Papas. "I told her I loved her and always had," Mackenzie informed Rolling Stone. "She took my hand and said 'I love you, too.' I was moved."

Michelle's daughter Chynna Phillips believed Mackenzie

In 1997, over a decade before Mackenzie Phillips' memoir and her interview with Oprah Winfrey, she revealed her incestuous relationship with John Phillips to their family. Afterward, Mackenzie approached Michelle Phillips and backpedaled her claims. "She called me back and said, 'You know I'm joking,'" Michelle informed Showbiz411 in 2009. "I said it wasn't funny. Mackenzie said, 'I guess we have different senses of humor.'" Since John died in 2001, before Mackenzie's allegations became public, Michelle felt their validity couldn't be proven. 

In contrast, Michelle's daughter Chynna Phillips believed her half-sister from the start. While she acknowledged the news had devastated her, "I knew it was true ... who in their right mind would make such a claim if it wasn't true?" Chynna explained to Us Weekly in 2009. However, she empathized with her mom and conceded she also would have preferred John and Mackenzie's incestuous relationship remain private, rather than receive media attention.

Bijou Phillips, Mackenzie's half-sister from John's third marriage to Geneviève Waïte,  was 13 when Mackenzie informed her about her relationship with John. "This news was confusing and scary, as I lived alone with my father since I was 3, I didn't know what to believe," Bijou later told People. Bijou, who's dealt with addiction struggles of her own, was further confounded when Mackenzie recanted her allegations. Years later, in 2016, Mackenzie recalled to Oprah how scary and difficult it was for her to reveal her sexual relationship with John.   

If you or anyone you know has been a victim of sexual assault, help is available. Visit the Rape, Abuse & Incest National Network website or contact RAINN's National Helpline at 1-800-656-HOPE (4673).