Did Mama Cass Elliot choke to death on a ham sandwich?

Photo by WordRidden - CC-BY

Photo by WordRidden - CC-BY

Cass Elliot was the heavyweight of the 60s group The Mamas And The Papas in more ways than one. She had a fabulous voice and tremendous stage presence, but was also seriously obese. Cass died on 29 July 1974 at the age of 32 at Flat 12, 9 Curzon Place, Mayfair, London—the same flat where Keith Moon would die four years later, also at the age of 32.

Cass had just completed a very successful concert tour and was elated after her rapturous reception during two weeks of sold-out performances. She died in bed that night. Here’s how the news was reported the next day:

“She was eating a ham sandwich and a soft drink, she was propped up in bed, that was last night, and today her secretary went into the bedroom to find her still propped up in bed and dead, apparently having choked to death on the food in her sleep.”

The word “apparently” tells us that this was nothing more than an assumption, but so unexpected was her death that the news spread quickly. The speculation was overlooked and was believed as fact.

Naturally there was an inquest. No evidence was found of any food in her windpipe. Her death had been due to the malfunctioning of her heart. On her death certificate the cause of death was listed as “fatty myocardial degeneration due to obesity“, with an added annotation stating “natural causes“.

By the time the facts got out of the door, the falsehood had travelled around the world. Even today many (if not most) of her fans “know” that Cass Elliot died from choking on a ham sandwich.

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