The Grim World Of 'The Mamas And The Papas' Singer, John Phillips
John Phillips is best remembered as the catalyst behind one of the most memorable bands of the 1960s, The Mamas and The Papas. It was Phillips who was the chief songwriter and musical architect of the group that would become a defining force in music of the era, earning themselves two Grammy Awards and induction into the Grammy Hall of Fame. And his career didn't end when the band broke up. He was well regarded among the elite in Hollywood as a brilliant musical artist; his talents were still very much in demand. Phillips would be called on to work with other renowned musical acts, such as The Rolling Stones, The Beatles, and The Beach Boys.
Under all the glitz and glamour of being among the cream of the music world, however, was turmoil, pain, and darkness. John Phillips had a prime reputation as an artist, but the truth of his inner demons would eventually emerge: his drug use, his unpredictability, and his instability.
Phillips was married four times. First, he was married to Susan Adams, with whom he had two of his children, Mackenzie and Jeffrey Phillips. While on tour with his band, The Journeymen, Phillips met 18-year-old Michelle Gilliam (he was nine years older) while performing in a California club. The two had a whirlwind romance, and Phillips divorced his first wife to marry Michelle. Michelle would later join her husband as a singer and co-songwriter in his new band, "The Mamas and The Papas."
According to Biography, the Phillipses' marriage would become fraught with troubles, which affected their band's dynamics. Michelle had an affair with bandmate Denny Dougherty, which led to both a separation from John (and later an open marriage) and Michelle temporarily getting fired from the group. Their daughter, Chynna Phillips, was born in 1968, but a baby wasn't enough to keep them together, and they divorced in 1969.
John married South Africa model Genevieve Waite in 1972. Although they collaborated on many artistic projects together, they weren't as successful as they hoped. Both Waite and Phillips were into heavy drug use — their mutual addictions brought about the end of their marriage. In 1995, Phillips would remarry for the final time, to artist Farnaz Arasteh. At this point, Phillips appeared to have calmed down considerably, and the two lasted until he died in 2001.
A big fan of drugs
Although The Mamas and The Papas officially broke up in 1971, John Phillips was doing quite well for himself. He was a well-known figure in Hollywood, revered for his songwriting and musical talents. According to The Fix, Philips was welcomed into the circles of Hollywood elites such as Roman Polanski, Warren Beatty, Robert Evans, The Beatles, and The Rolling Stones. Unfortunately, through these collaborations and friendships came the introduction to heavy drugs — particularly cocaine and heroin. By the '70s, Phillips had become addicted to both.
And the drug abuse eventually had a negative impact on his work. Through his collaboration with The Rolling Stones, Mick Jagger himself helped Phillips get a solo album deal. Due to the excessive drug use by both Keith Richards and Phillips, the album was met with several delays, which led to the financing getting pulled.
Besides using drugs, Phillips was soon into selling as well. In 1980, he was arrested for drug trafficking in a massive DEA sting — he was convicted the following year. In order to reduce his sentence, Phillips and his daughter, Mackenzie (a TV star at this time), launched an anti-drug campaign around the country.
Phillips appeared to be done with hard drugs for good, but that apparently did not stop him from drinking alcohol. By the '90s, Phillips's liver had taken quite a beating from all the abuse, and by 1992 he needed a liver transplant — and it wasn't long after his surgery that Phillips was photographed drinking in a bar.
Did he sexually abuse one of his daughters?
Like her father, Mackenzie Phillips was also a heavy drug user, which would eventually get her fired from her TV show, the original One Day at a Time. Mackenzie also asserted that she and her father, John Phillips, would do drugs together — sometimes with her father injecting her with heroin himself. In 1980, both father and daughter would go to rehab together for their addictions. Evidently that wasn't the worst that Mackenzie experienced from her father. Years after his death in 2001, Mackenzie Phillips claimed her father forced himself on her when she was 19 — the night before she was supposed to marry her first husband. According to People, in 2009 she revealed in her autobiography that both she and her father were on drugs at the time. "My father was not a man with boundaries. He was full of love, and he was sick with drugs. I woke up that night from a blackout to find myself having sex with my own father."
Mackenzie maintained that her father's abuse (though she would also claim that the sex became consensual) would continue for the next decade. Some have dismissed Mackenzie's claims, but others, as noted by CNN, such as her half-sister Chynna Phillips and former co-star Valerie Bertinelli, have supported her.
"Don't hate my father," Mackenzie told People.
Phillips was 65 when he died of heart failure on March 18, 2001 in Los Angeles, reports People. He had been in the hospital for weeks after falling off a stool and injuring his shoulder, according to Deseret News. He was in pain that was later attributed to a stomach infection that also caused his kidneys to fail. Doctors were planning to put him on dialysis and physical therapy when his health took a turn for the worse.
Phillips had recently completed an album, which was posthumously titled "Phillips 66," named for how old he would have been had he made it to his next birthday, per The Guardian. The album contained mostly acoustic songs as well as an updated version of the hit song, "California Dreamin'" (per AllMusic). Studio Engineer and producer Harvey Goldberg said that having Phillips sing him a song was "always a magical moment," as Rolling Stone notes.
After he divorced Michelle Gilliam, John lived in a guest house on the property of director Michael Sarne, with whom he developed a friendship. Sarne would be the one who would eventually introduce Phillips to Geneviève Waite. The Guardian reports that one night after doing mescaline on the beach with Sarne and Phillps, Waite commented how the two men looked like Romantic poets Lord Byron and Percy Shelley in their "frilly shirts ... and ... velvet jackets." That sparked the idea of the men making a film about the two.
While they began shooting the movie, there was no formal script, and a good portion of it consisted of scenes from a concert tour that Phillips had embarked on to promote an album. According to Sarne, the film began looking more and more like a documentary about the life of Phillips. "The pretension of [Phillips] thinking he was a modern-day Lord Byron actually started to annoy me after a while," Sarne said. The director eventually dropped the project and moved to Italy.
Phillips lived in the epicentre of the hippie counterculture movement, so it's no surprise that he would eventually come into contact with someone who knew Charles Manson. Rolling Stone reports that Phillips said he instinctively knew when to say no to "certain temptations," and one such temptation was hanging out with Manson.
The story goes that Dennis Wilson, frontman for The Beach Boys, had what Biography calls a brief friendship with Manson. Their friendship eventually led to Wilson sharing his home with Manson and his followers for what is described as an "indeterminate length of time." Phillips told Rolling Stone that Wilson "used to call me all the time, you know, and say come on over, it's incredible." Phillips said that he would pass every time. "I just wouldn't get into it. And I was invited to Sharon's home that evening when it happened, and I got drunk and passed out. Ran to the nearest bottle immediately. I just have a natural... feeling about those things," he told Rolling Stone.