— A year and a half after she released a memoir revealing she was the victim of incest at the hands of her singer father, Mackenzie Phillips is still dealing with the fallout — a decided chill from family members, a psyche still bruised over criticism about her confession.
The 51-year-old former child star has updated her best-selling autobiography, “High on Arrival,” to address the resulting storm that came from writing that her father coaxed her into bed on the eve of her wedding night, and continued an incestuous affair with her for 10 years. Her folk-rock star father, “Papa John” Phillips of the Mamas & the Papas, died in 2001.
Speaking with Phillips live on TODAY Tuesday, Meredith Vieira told the actress she was surprised she didn’t see the fallout coming over her hair-raising story.
“I think I was very naïve,” Phillips told Vieira. “I expected, certainly, people to go, ‘Oh, that is so crazy.’ What I didn’t expect was the deeply cruel things that were said ... ‘Mackenzie Phillips banged her dad,’ or the blogs that I read.”
Perhaps less surprising was the family reaction to Phillips’ publicly airing her incest story. While Phillips told Vieira she has received waves of support from other incest victims and has unwavering support from her mother Susan Adams, other parts of her extended family are now lost to her. Her brother Jeff and celebrity stepsisters Chynna and Bijou Phillips no longer speak to her, while her stepmother, actress and former Mamas & the Papas singer Michelle Phillips, has repeatedly lambasted her incest story.
In a statement to TODAY, Michelle Phillips said: “After 35 years of a needle up her arm (including several months while she was pregnant) it’s difficult to believe much of her story … she has hurt everyone in her family tremendously and apparently feels no guilt or shame in doing it or over how she decided to deal with her … umm … ’memories.’ ”
Shown the quote from her stepmother, Phillips sighed and said, “Oh, Mich.
“Maybe I’m naïve, but I’m an eternal optimist. And I certainly didn’t expect such vitriol from someone who’s expected and thought of as such a classy woman,” she told Vieira.
Speaking with TODAY’s Hoda Kotb and Kathie Lee Gifford later in the show, Phillips said Michelle Phillips’ comments may be the result of her stepmother’s “protecting a legendary rock band of which she was a huge part.”
“I’m very disappointed in Michelle, because she’s known me since I was 4 years old,” she told Kotb and Gifford. “She has known about the incest for many years, and yet she chooses to try to discredit me publicly.
“When Michelle says I feel no shame or guilt — the woman won’t speak to me, so how does she know how I feel? I’m very, very sorry that my family has been hurt by the truth.”
Looking back, looking forward
In “High on Arrival,” first published in September 2009, Phillips recounted a childhood surrounded by her father’s rock star friends, finding fame playing rebel Julie Cooper on the long-running sitcom “One Day at a Time,” and her lengthy battle with drug addiction, capped by a 2008 arrest that sent her to rehab.
But it was her story of incest that grabbed headlines and sent her family running the other way. In her new chapter, Phillips writes that she “shouldn’t have been surprised” by the reaction, “but I was.” She said her family purposely disinvited her from Thanksgiving dinner in 2009, and has fiercely defended John Phillips because “my family stayed loyal to the cult of my father.”
During Tuesday’s interview, Phillips said her family’s reaction is “a textbook case of the way a family reacts to incest within a family.”
“It’s been really hard to not have my sisters and my brother and my ‘wicked’ ex-stepmother, with whom I’ve been very close over the years, to have them basically say, ‘That’s it: We’re done with you,’ ” she said.
In her memoir, Phillips writes that what began as incest under pressure from her father eventually became consensual, but she has since learned through counseling and from other incest survivors that “there is no such thing as consensual incest.”
“I was sort of groomed to believe it was consensual, that I was complicit in some way, that because I didn’t scream and fight and I participated, that made me at fault,” Phillips told Vieira. “And, of course, that is the huge thing that all of us survivors suffer from, is taking a portion of the blame and guilt onto their own backs.”
Still, Phillips holds out hope that she will one day be on speaking terms with her estranged family members.
“I love my family,” she said. “I sit here with open arms hoping they’ll come back into my life.”
“Do you think they will?” Vieira asked.
“I’m an eternal optimist,” Phillips replied. “I love them; I miss them. But the other day, my 24-year-old son Shane said, ‘Mom, don’t you realize how much better our life is, in a way, without them, without the drama, without the family infighting?’ ”
“I’m grateful for a simple life; I don’t think ‘High on Arrival’ would signify a person who would be able to go on with a simple life, but that’s what I’m able to do,” she said.