Mama Cass (Cass Elliot) was not felled by a ham sandwich, okay?
It’s dismaying, and actually pisses me off, that such a harmful misconception could spread so widely. It reduces a stunning talent to a punchline and reinforces the idea that artistic triumph should be undermined when the artist doesn’t conform to preconceived notions of outward pop stardom. Mama Cass’s voice was the bedrock of the Mamas & the Papas, and it’s no surprise that she alone had a formidable career both before and after the group. It’s infuriating that such an outlandish untruth can reduce her achievements to a crass joke.
In 1974, Mama Cass died of heart failure caused by fatty myocardial degeneration, which, yes, was the result of her weight. Okay, I get it. Ha ha–she was fat. Investigators found a sandwich in her hotel room, and god only knows how it grew in an urban myth. When I die, I hope there are no, say, socks in the room; I’d hate for anyone to blame socks for my demise.
Cass had just finished a two-week engagment at the London Palladium, each show a sold-out sensation. Her solo career, while hardly sky-rocketing, was well received, and her singles were highly polished pop gems. It’s difficult to expect that her presence on the charts would have been preserved through the rest of the ’70s, but while she was there, she put forth a terrific body of work. It was the typical feel-good, highly produced fare you’d expect from someone in her genre, but when the aim is to make someone feel good, it doesn’t take a genius–it just has to work. And it does!