Denny Doherty, an original member of 1960s sunshine pop group The Mamas & The Papas who sang lead on a number of the band’s hits, died of an aneurysm in his abdomen January 19th at his home in Mississuaga Ontario. He was sixty-six. “He was one of the greatest tenors in rock and roll,” says his former bandmate Michelle Phillips.
In 1963 Doherty met Cass Elliott, who was so impressed by his soaring voice she hired him to sing in her group The Big Three. That group also soon folded, but both Elliott and Doherty were quickly hired to sing in John and Michelle Phillips’ new band The Magic Circle — which changed its name to The Mamas & The Papas when it signed to Dunhill Records in September 1965. The group went to Number Four on the Billboard Hot 100 with their first single “California Dreamin” and instantly established group as one of the premier vocal bands of the mid 1960s.
Successful singles such as “Monday, Monday,” “Creeque Alley,” and “Dream A Little Dream” soon followed. Almost immediately, however, the group was plagued by internal problems. In 1965 Doherty had an affair with Michelle, who was married to bandleader John Phillips. Michelle was briefly replaced. When she returned both to the group and to John, Doherty began drinking heavily. The group limped on — and in the summer of 1967 played The Monterey International Pop Festival, which they helped organize — but they broke up soon after.
Later, Doherty tried his hand at acting, appearing on Broadway in the 1974 play “The Man In The Moon.” In 1982 he and John Phillips formed a new Mamas and Papas with John’s daughter Mackenzie Phillips and toured off and on throughout the decade. In 2001, he premiered the acclaimed musical “Dream A Little Dream” in Toronto in which he recounted his life story and performed from the Mamas and Papas catalog.
Doherty had suffered from an undisclosed illness — from which family and friends had expected him to make a full recovery — just before his death. “He was probably the least known member of the Mamas and Papas, who sang most of the hits,” Michelle Phillips says. “All I can say is I had the great fortune to have been able to sing with him and call him my friend.”