John Phillips of the Mamas and the Papas Dies

Monday, March 19th 2001, 12:00 am

By: News On 6

LOS ANGELES (AP)-Singer-songwriter John Phillips, who penned ``California Dreamin''' and other hits as co-founder of the '60s pop-folk quartet the Mamas and the Papas, has died of heart failure. He was 65.

Phillips, who also helped organize the seminal Monterey Pop Festival, died Sunday morning at the University of California, Los Angeles Medical Center, a spokesman for the hospital said.

``His personality is going to be sorely missed,'' said Harvey Goldberg, a longtime friend and producer. ``His music is going to be sorely missed.''

Phillips was the principal songwriter for the Mamas and the Papas, writing such favorites as ``I Saw Her Again Last Night'' and ``Creeque Alley.'' In 1966, the band won a Grammy for best contemporary group performance for the single ``Monday Monday.''

As one of the organizers of 1967's Monterey Pop Festival, Phillips also helped introduce Jimi Hendrix to American audiences.

``He had a sweet voice, and he played guitar beautifully, and he'd play a song, just acoustically, and they'd be hits,'' Beach Boys singer Bruce Johnston said Sunday.

The Mamas and the Papas broke new ground by having women and men in one group at a time when most singing groups were all-male or all-female. Phillips' second wife, Michelle Phillips, and another female vocalist, Cass Elliott, teamed with Phillips and Denny Doherty.

The group's catchy sound was a blend of '60s upbeat pop and the folk music that had surged in popularity early in the decade. Other top folk-rock bands of the era included the Byrds and the Lovin' Spoonful.

Among the Mamas and the Papas' other records: ``Go Where You Wanna Go,'' ``Dancing Bear,'' and versions of ``I Call Your Name'' and ``Dedicated to the One I Love.''

But the heyday of the group was brief: It disbanded in 1968 following John and Michelle Phillips' divorce. Phillips briefly reformed the band in 1982 with Doherty, daughter Mackenzie and Elaine ``Spanky'' McFarlane. The foursome toured playing oldies and new Phillips originals.

Several of Phillips' children have achieved fame. Mackenzie Phillips became an actress and starred in the sitcom ``One Day at a Time'' in the 1970s until she was fired in 1982 because of cocaine addiction she later kicked.

Another daughter, Chynna, was a member of the pop group Wilson Phillips with two daughters of Beach Boys singer Brian Wilson. A third daughter, Bijou, gained fame as a teen model in the 1990s and is also an actress.

Phillips was married four times: to Susan Phillips, Michelle Phillips, actress Genevieve Waite and to his wife at the time of his death, Farnaz, to whom he'd been married for six years.

He had recently completed work on a solo album, tentatively titled ``Slow Starter.'' An album he began work on 25 years ago with Mick Jagger and Keith Richards called ``Pay, Pack and Follow'' is set for release in May.

He also wrote songs for the Grateful Dead (``Me & My Uncle'') and the Beach Boys.

Phillips was born in Parris Island, S.C. After high school, he moved to New York City, where he formed the Journeymen.

When Elliot joined the group that became the Mamas and the Papas, the band moved to Los Angeles, where it was signed in 1965.

``They were really the American band that ended the British Invasion,'' Goldberg said.

The band was inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame in 1998.

Phillips received a liver transplant in 1992 after years of abusing alcohol and illegal drugs.

``It's like having a new lease on life,'' Phillips said at the time of the transplant, which came six months after he stopped drinking. He said he had weaned himself from drugs in a rehabilitation clinic after a 1980 arrest.

He is survived by his wife, three daughters, two sons and two stepdaughters.

Funeral arrangements were pending Sunday.

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