Mama Cass and Her Ham Sandwich

"Mama" Cass Elliot’s death has been reported over the years as having been caused by "choking on a sandwich while in bed and from inhaling her own vomit."

She didn’t choke. The unfortunate story of Elliot’s cause of death was started by a careless coroner called to examine her. He saw a ham sandwich and a Coke on a table next to the bed where Elliot’s body lay… and he jumped to a very quick conclusion, stating that Elliot, not displaying symptoms of any other sort of trauma, must have choked while eating and drinking lying down. The story jibed with the general impression of Elliot as gluttonous, so it stuck.

But that examiner missed one pretty crucial fact: the sandwich was untouched. The investigating police officer noted that in his report, and a full autopsy showed that the actual cause of Elliot’s death was a heart attack. She hadn’t choked on anything. The true cause of death, a heart attack, was not determined until an autopsy was performed a week later, but by that time it was too late. Another of rock’s urban legends was born.

At 5’5" and 238 lbs., Mama Cass was twice the normal weight for a woman her age and height. The effects of long-term obesity, drug abuse and crash diets had weakened her heart to the point of failure. Because she was a large woman, and there was a sandwich on the nightstand when her body was found, an irreversible connection was made. That it was a ham sandwich (an obvious commentary on her weight) was added after the fact. However, no traces of food were found blocking her trachea, and there was never any indication that food played a role in her death.

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