The tragic life and death of Mama Cass Elliot

5 April 2022, 12:43 | Updated: 14 April 2022, 11:50

Mama Cass was the queen of LA pop in the mid-60s
Mama Cass was the queen of LA pop in the mid-60s. Picture: Alamy

By Naomi Bartram

Mama Cass was one of the most memorable members of the Los Angeles-based folk rock group The Mamas & the Papas, here's her story...

On July 29, 1974, ‘Mama Cass’ Elliot died in her sleep in a London apartment at the age of 32.

The star was one of the most famous members of the group The Mamas & the Papas and had just completed a successful two-week engagement at the Palladium.

But she sadly passed away in the flat she was living with her friend and road manager, George Caldwell, during her stay in England.

Let’s look back at her life…

Mama Cass was part of Mamas & Papas
Mama Cass was part of Mamas & Papas. Picture: Alamy

Cass Elliot was born September 19th, 1941, in Alexandria, Virginia.

She first began singing after college in Washington, D.C., before she went on to form part of The Mamas & the Papas in the mid 1960s.

Fellow member John Phillips revealed how Mama Cass came to join the group, saying in an interview: “The first night Cass and I met, in the East Village in late ’64 or early ’65. And there was this fantastic rapport among the four of us, so we just sort of knew.

“We started singing and singing, and singing, and it was obvious that it was just a matter of working it out.”

Released in 1965, the group’s first hit was ‘California Dreamin’ and they went on to release four albums.

Mama Cass had a show in Las Vegas
Mama Cass had a show in Las Vegas. Picture: Alamy

Just three years later in 1968, The Mamas & the Papas gave up on a tour of England mid-way through and broke up.

The same year, Cass finished her first solo album ‘Dream a Little Dream of Me’ and was then offered a show at Caesar’s Palace in Las Vegas for $40,000 a week.

Unfortunately, it didn’t exactly go to plan and just days before opening night she was said to be complaining of throat problems and a fever.

The show was cancelled after just one night and Mama Cass soon went back to Los Angeles for what was reported as a Tonsillectomy.

Launching her career in TV, the star became a regular on talk shows and Hollywood Squares, as well as landing acting roles and her own programmes.

Towards the end of her life, she also returned to Las Vegas, this time succeeding in the 1972 show Flamingo.

Mama Cass sadly passed away when she was just 32
Mama Cass sadly passed away when she was just 32. Picture: Alamy

She also headlined at the Fairmont Hotel in San Francisco, before moving around the club circuit in Miami, Puerto Rico and London.

In her final interview, Cass said: “I’m independent. I value my freedom to live and love as I want more than anything else in the world. I never created the Big Mama image.

“The public does it for you. But I’ve always been different. I got into the habit of being independent, and the habit became a design for living.”

Following Mama Cass’ sad death, there has been some confusion over the cause, with a rumour spreading that she choked on a ham sandwich.

However, her passing was ruled accidental and coroner Keith Simpson confirmed there was no food in her windpipe, nor were there any drugs present in her system when she died.

She was survived by a daughter, Owen, 54, from her first marriage to songwriter James Hendricks.

She was also married to Donald von Wiedenman for a short while.