Michelle Phillips (born June 4, 1944) is an American singer, songwriter and actress. She gained fame as a member of the popular 1960s singing group The Mamas & the Papas and is the last surviving original member of the group.
Phillips was born Holly Michelle Gilliam in Long Beach, California, the daughter of Joyce Leon (née Poole), an accountant, and Gardner Burnett Gilliam, a merchant marine. She grew up partly in Mexico City where her father was attending college on the GI Bill. She married John Phillips on December 31, 1962, when she was 18 years old, long before the formation of the band. In 1968 they had a child together, Chynna Phillips, who went on to co-found the singing group Wilson Phillips.
The Mamas & the Papas
Early on in the band's history (in 1965), Phillips and fellow band member Denny Doherty began an affair. They were able to keep it secret from the other two band members for quite some time. During a trip to Mexico, Doherty revealed the affair to band member Cass Elliot, who was furious. Soon afterwards, John Phillips caught Michelle and Doherty in the act. He moved himself and Michelle out of the house the band shared.
John Phillips soon left his wife and moved back in with Doherty. At this point she started an affair with Gene Clark of The Byrds. After a concert where she blew kisses to Clark in the front row, her husband said he could not stand to perform with her any longer. Consulting both their attorney Abe Somer as well as their label Dunhill Records, the band then drafted a formal statement kicking Michelle out of the group in June 1966. She was replaced by Lou Adler's then-girlfriend, singer-songwriter Jill Gibson. Phillips was invited back into the group in late August, while Gibson received a lump sum for her two and a half months in the band. The band continued to have problems even after her return. The Mamas and the Papas would eventually disband in July 1968 and then again in 1971 after a brief reunion. The couple eventually divorced in 1970.
Phillips helped co-write some of the band's most popular hits, including "Creeque Alley" and "California Dreamin'". During 1970, Phillips sang backup vocals on a Leonard Cohen tour. That same year, Phillips married actor Dennis Hopper for eight days. Of that marriage, Phillips said: "I will say this about Dennis Hopper: We were married for eight days and truly… they were the happiest days of my life."
In 1973, Phillips recorded vocals as a cheerleader along with Darlene Love, for the Cheech & Chong single "Basketball Jones" which peaked at No.15 on the Billboard singles chart. In 1975 Phillips signed a solo recording contract with A&M Records and released a promo single, "Aloha Louie", that she had written with ex-husband John Phillips. Phillips released her first solo single in 1976, "No Love Today", on the Mother, Jugs & Speed movie soundtrack. In 1977, Phillips released her debut solo album, Victim of Romance, produced by Jack Nitzsche for A&M Records. Her first two solo singles from the album failed to make the U.S. music charts. That same year she sang backup vocals with former stepdaughter actress Mackenzie Phillips on a track called "Zulu Warrior", for her ex-husband second solo album, Pay Pack & Follow, which was eventually released in 2001.
In 1979, she recorded a song called "Forever" for the motion picture soundtrack of California Dreaming, a surf film that had nothing to do with her old band. In late 1987, Phillips sang backup vocals on Belinda Carlisle's number one hit, "Heaven Is a Place on Earth", as well as on the Carlisle LP, Heaven on Earth.
On January 12, 1998, Phillips was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in New York City, along with her fellow bandmates. For the first time in over two decades Michelle performed California Dreamin live with Denny Doherty and John Phillips. Phillips was later inducted into the Vocal Group Hall of Fame in 2000 (for the Mamas & Papas) where she again performed live with Denny Doherty, but without John.
On March 29, 2001, Phillips was one of several performers who gathered at The Roxy Theatre in Hollywood, California, for a John Phillips memorial tribute. Michelle performed live with Scott McKenzie and Denny Doherty on two numbers, while other live performances included Barry McGuire, John Stewart of The Kingston Trio, Mackenzie Phillips, Spanky McFarlane of Spanky & Our Gang, Owen Elliot-Kugell, Bijou Phillips, Sean Lennon, and Tamerlane Phillips. Non-performers who also attended included Lou Adler, The Mamas & the Papas' original record producer, among the three hundred other invited guests.
Phillips continues to act in movies and in television today. In 1977, she appeared with Rudolph Nureyev in the film Valentino where she performed daring nude scenes. Her chemistry with Nureyev was so poor that they were rumoured to have slapped each other during a love scene.
She has made many guest appearances on programs as diverse as Spin City and Star Trek: The Next Generation (where she appeared the episode "We'll Always Have Paris" as a former love-interest of Captain Picard). Phillips' most recent serious acting job has been a recurring role on the WB drama 7th Heaven as Lily Jackson, sister of family matriarch Annie Jackson Camden (Catherine Hicks). She played Laura Collins in the 1996 television movie No One Would Tell.
However, Phillips is best known to modern television audiences for her roles as mother to two prime-time vixens. She starred for several seasons on Knots Landing as Anne W. Matheson Sumner, playing the mother of future Desperate Housewives star Nicolette Sheridan (a role which Phillips returned to for the 1997 TV-Movie Knots Landing: Back to the Cul-de-Sac). Then in the mid-1990's she gained a whole new generation of fans for playing Abby Malone, mother of Valerie (Tiffani-Amber Thiessen) on Fox's Beverly Hills, 90210.
Phillips married Dennis Hopper on October 31, 1970 but filed for divorce just a week later. She then married radio executive Robert Burch in 1978, and would divorce again, in 1980. Phillips gave birth to her second child, a boy named Austin Hines, in 1982.
In 1986, she penned her autobiography, California Dreamin': The True Story of the Mamas and the Papas, released just weeks after her former husband John Phillips' autobiography Papa John. In it Phillips describes such events as the first meeting between her and fellow Mama, Cass Elliot (Phillips had just taken acid for the first time, and "came on" to it just as she opened the door), winning 17 straight shoots at a crap table in the Bahamas when the band was broke and couldn't afford plane fare back to the States (winning enough for first class, no less), and how her writing credit on "California Dreamin'", which still nets her royalties, was "the best wake-up call" she ever had (she was asleep in a New York Hotel room when her then husband John Phillips woke her up to help him finish a new song he was writing).
Phillips is renowned for her youthful appearance which she attributes, in part, to staying completely away from direct sunlight. With the death of Doherty on January 19, 2007, Phillips became the only surviving member of the original Mamas and the Papas. She also sang at Doherty's funeral in Halifax, Nova Scotia.
She was good friends with Sharon Tate, Abigail Folger, Jay Sebring and Wojciech Frykowski, who were killed by members of Charles Manson's cult on August 9, 1969. In a 2006 interview for the History Channel show Our Generation: Death of the Counterculture, she said that it was still hard to talk about the murders.