The Mamas and the Papas: Did Mama Cass Really Die Choking on Food?

Certain celebrity deaths have inspired many conspiracy theories and urban legends. To this day, people are fascinated with the tragic passings of people like Marilyn Monroe and Aaliyah. Mama Cass Elliot, a member of the Mamas and the Papas, died tragically and some have claimed she died for very unusual reasons.

Mama Cass died tragically at the age of 33. According to a famous rock ‘n’ roll anecdote, she choked to death on a ham sandwich. Is there any truth to this famous anecdote?

Mama Cass Elliot | Michael Putland/Getty Images

The Mamas and the Papas and Mama Cass’ solo career

The Mamas and the Papas were one of the defining Californian bands of the 1960s. Alongside the Beach Boys and the Byrds, they helped to popularize a style of rock music called the California Sound. Their combination of folk, rock, and pop helped them gain a place in the rock ‘n’ roll history books. Today, they are most known for their hit “California Dreamin’,” which has been covered by everyone from the Beach Boys to Sia.

Mama Cass was one of the group’s biggest stars and one of the most popular female rock singers of the day. She had a voice that compared to few others. According to AllMusic, the Mamas and the Papas disbanded in 1968. After that, she managed to have hits of her own like “Make Your Own Kind of Music.” That song was introduced to a new generation through the popular television series Lost.

“Make Your Own Kind of Music” by Mama Cass

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During her solo career, Mama Cass became a television personality. She hosted a pair of television specials, one in 1969 and one in 1973. Sadly, her solo career did not last very long after that second special.

The truth about Mama Cass’ untimely death

She passed away in 1974. Rumors swirled she died because she choked on a ham sandwich. This rumor provided fodder for jokes about Mama Cass’ size. Despite its prominence, the rumor was not true, as she died of a heart attack. However, the rumor does have its roots in fact.

“Dream A Little Dream” by Mama Cass

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Dr. Anthony Greenburgh, a physician who examined Mama Cass after her passing, speculated she died because she choked on a ham sandwich. According to Snopes, he said “From what I saw when I got to the flat, she appeared to have been eating a ham sandwich and drinking Coca-Cola while lying down — a very dangerous thing to do. This would be especially dangerous for someone like Cass who was overweight and who might be prone to having a heart attack. She seemed to have choked on a ham sandwich.”

It’s true Mama Cass had a ham sandwich near her bed when she died. However, she had not taken a bite of the sandwich. Greenburgh’s false speculation became one of the most famous rock ‘n’ roll rumors of its time. Regardless, Mama Cass remains one of the most popular female singers in the early history of rock music.

Also see: How the Beach Boys Reacted to Katy Perry’s ‘California Gurls’