'My mum did not choke on a ham sandwich' Mama Cass' daughter sets story straight

by 24britishtvMay 6, 2024, 11 p.m. 24
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"Enough with the jokes" says the daughter of 'Mama' Cass Elliot. The legendary singer died in her sleep on July 28, 1974. Not only did her young daughter have to face the loss of her mother at just eight years old, she then spent a lifetime hearing that enduring, apocryphal story involving a ham sandwich. 50 years later, Owen Elliot-Kugell is ready to set the story straight with a new book detailing how she finally, accidentally stumbled onto the real truth of that tragic night and the surrounding misleading stories. It is true that when Cass was found in the London flat loaned to her by friend and fellow star Harry Nilsson there was that infamous sandwich by the bedside. Owen has painstakingly reconstructed her mother's final hours and also unlocked the mystery of why such a hurtful lie was spread by some of those closest to her.

Owen says: ""There was a ham sandwich, but she didn't eat it and she didn't choke on it. So enough with the jokes." The new book My Mama, Cass is out next week and Owen has explained why she felt so passionately about setting the record straight: "It bothered me because it was such a horrible story, and I knew that it wasn't true. And it just felt so cruel to have a rumour like that perpetuated. It tortured me." Throughout her childhood she would hear playground jokes and be ghoulishly asked by her friends' parents if it really happened. It even became a punchline in the Austin Powers film. The official post-mortem gave the cause of death as a heart attack, and there were no traces of food found in her system.

Cass had just finished an exhausting two-week residency at the London Palladium, and had been desperate to rest. However, she was expected at a party thrown by Mick Jagger which lasted the entire night. From there she had to go to a brunch since it was thrown in her honour and then a press event all afternoon. At all these events it was noted that the star seemed exhausted and, at times, unsteady. When she finally made it home, a backing singer made her a ham sandwich and she went to bed. Throughout her life and career, Cass had battled with her weight and was the constant runt of public jokes, including during TV appearances. She had a history of dangerous crash diets and drug taking starting with a teenage prescription for amphetamines to speed up her metabolism and promote weight loss. And, of course, she was part of a generation of musicians notorious for drug consumption.

So when the news of the sudden death reached close friend and journalist Sue Cameron back in LA, she called Cass' manager Allen Carr and together they concocted the ham sandwich story. It was leaked to the Hollywood Reporter and swiftly spread. Cameron and Carr were trying to head off potentially devastating drug associations and yet, in the end, absolutely no drugs were found in the star's system after her death. This remained unknown until recently. Owen told the BBC she was lunching with Cameron when the subject came up: "I said, 'I really just wish I knew where that story came from'. She stopped eating, put her knife and fork down, looked me in the eye and said, 'I did it.'" Owen added: "Allan Carr wanted to protect his client's legacy and in a weird way it did. So now I understand, and it makes sense." When her mother died, custody of Owen passed to her maternal aunt Leah Kunkel. Twice-divorced Cass never revealed who her biological father was to anyone, and Owen only discovered many years later that he was musician Chuck Day, who died in 2007. My Mama, Cass by Owen Elliot-Kugell is released on 9 May.

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