Rock and roll veteran John Phillips, the founder and main songwriter for the 1960s California pop group the Mamas and the Papas, died of heart failure in Los Angeles on Sunday. He was 65.
Phillips, who had a liver transplant several years ago after years of drug and alcohol abuse, died at UCLA Medical Center surrounded by family and friends, spokeswoman Elizabeth Freund said.
Although the Mamas and Papas lasted for just three years until 1968, the quartet recorded some of the most memorable tunes of the era, including “California Dreamin’ ” and “Monday, Monday,” which was No. 1 for three weeks in 1966. In all, the group had six top five hits in 1966 and 1967. The group also included Phillips’ wife Michelle (they divorced in 1970), Denny Doherty and “Mama” Cass Elliot, who died in 1974. The survivors reunited in 1998 to sing “California Dreamin’ ” at the group’s induction into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.Phillips also helped organize the 1967 Monterey Pop Festival, which introduced artists such as guitarist Jimi Hendrix and English rock band the Who to American audiences.
He also wrote and co-wrote songs for other artists, including “San Francisco (Be Sure to Wear Flowers in Your Hair)” for Scott McKenzie in 1967; “Kokomo,” a No. 1 hit in 1988 for the Beach Boys; and “Me and My Uncle” for the Grateful Dead.
After four studio albums, the Mamas and the Papas disbanded in 1968. Phillips made a solo LP, “The Wolf King of L.A.,” split with his wife and was involved in a legal tangle with his former bandmates and their Dunhill label. They reunited briefly in 1971 to record the little-appreciated album “People Like Us.”
During the 1970s, Phillips and new wife Genevieve Waite were sidetracked by drug habits. In 1980, strung out on heroin and cocaine, he was arrested for drug trafficking and spent a month in jail after being convicted of a lesser charge.
Phillips had just completed an album of new material, tentatively titled “Slow Starter,” which included an update of “California Dreamin’.”Phillips is survived by his wife Farnaz; daughters Mackenzie, an actress best known for her work on the TV sitcom “One Day at a Time”; Chynna, a member of celebrity offspring trio Wilson Phillips; Bijou, a pop singer; sons Jeffrey and Tamerlane; and step-daughters Atoosa and Sanaz.
No funeral or memorial arrangements have been made yet.