During a lengthy chat about their “dysfunctional” family, Mackenzie Phillips opened up about why she chose to forgive late father John Phillips after the pair’s decade-long abusive and incestuous relationship.
“Dad was something else,” Mackenzie, 64, said during a Monday, December 4, sit-down for sister Chynna Phillips Baldwin’s YouTube channel. “And I get a lot of criticism, and a lot of trolling online, for having forgiveness in my heart. Forgiveness, because forgiving is for me, not for the other person. And forgiving doesn’t mean I cosign or agree with what I’m forgiving him for. It’s very complicated and yet I am at peace.”
Mackenzie previously claimed in her 2009 memoir, High on Arrival, that her abusive relationship with her father began after he raped her at the age of 19 on the night she married ex-husband Jeff Sessler. The relationship then allegedly became consensual for nearly a decade, coming to an end once Mackenzie discovered she was pregnant but wasn’t sure if John was the baby’s father. She later got an abortion. (Mackenzie was married to Sessler from 1979 to 1981 before moving on with Shane Fontayne, whom she wed in 1986. The pair welcomed son Shane Barakan in 1987 before their 2000 split. She later wed Keith Levenson in 2005.)
Chynna, 55 — who is married to Billy Baldwin — agreed with Mackenzie’s take on their father, sharing that there were “so many different levels” to who he was. “Obviously he’s an amazing songwriter and, you know I loved his laugh, and yet there was this whole other side to Dad that was, I mean, kind of, like a monster,” she added. (John died of heart failure in 2001 at the age of 64.)
When Mackenzie noted that the Mama’s & Papa’s singer had a “very, very dark, dark side” to him, Chynna replied, “He was so dark, and you just didn’t know who you were going to get. It was very unpredictable.”
After Mackenzie released her memoir in 2009, she and Chynna were publicly at odds, with Chynna claiming that she knew about the incest but wasn’t made aware of Mackenzie’s plan to detail it in her book. At the time, Chynna said she would have liked “a little family conference” prior to the memoir’s publication.
“So that we can talk about what feels safe for you, what doesn’t feel safe for you,” she explained to her sister during a joint interview in 2009. “But you know what? That may have not have been realistic in our family. That may not have worked.”
John was the father of five children. He shared Mackenzie and son Jeffrey Phillips with ex-wife Susan Adams. He later married second wife Michelle Phillips in 1962 and the pair welcomed daughter Chynna before their divorce seven years later. In 1972, he tied the knot with Geneviève Waïte and they welcomed son Tamerlane Phillips and daughter Bijou Phillips before calling it quits in 1985. (John married his fourth wife, Farnaz Arasteh, in 1995.)
While Mackenzie faced tension from most of her family members after her claims against John, she and Chynna were ultimately able to make amends. “When I stood by you I meant it with all my heart and I believed you and I want you to know I was proud of you for coming out,” she said during the duo’s YouTube conversation.
Chynna noted that the Phillips’ were labeled one of the “most dysfunctional” families in Hollywood. While discussing their struggled, the singer referenced the fatal accident on the set of brother-in-law Alec Baldwin’s Rust film and sister Bijou, 43, filing for divorce from estranged husband Danny Masterson after he was sentenced to 30 years in prison on two counts of rape earlier this year.
“It’s been a terribly painful few years for me,” she said, sharing that her trauma has been manifesting in “very bizarre” ways like chest pain and upper back pain. “I feel like I was on such a great track of starting to [simplify my life] and then just more trauma came my way and I lost my way again.”
Mackenzie, who has been sober for six years, agreed with her sister, saying she often has to “go and recharge” after engaging in public. “I’m almost a recluse,” she said. “But I work at a drug rehabilitation center. … I have to protect myself, but then, at the same time, be compassionate.”
If you or someone you know has been sexually assaulted, contact the National Sexual Assault Hotline at 1-800-656-HOPE (4673).