The Mamas & The Papas singer Mama Cass’ daughter debunks ‘gross’ rumor about famous mom

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For decades, Owen Elliot-Kugell had to put up with hearing a cruel rumor about how her mother died.

“Mama” Cass Elliot, a singer in the ‘60s group The Mamas & The Papas, died after performing a series of sold-out shows in London in 1974. She was 32. For nearly 50 years, it’s been alleged that she died after choking on a ham sandwich.

Elliot-Kugell was only 7 years old when she lost her mother. Now 57, she’s determined to set the record straight with her memoir, “My Mama, Cass,” now available in bookstores.


Owen Elliot looking directly at the camera

Owen Elliot-Kugell was 7 when she lost her famous mother. (Phil Roach/Globe Photos/

“I remember when I was younger, and I was in school,” Elliot-Kugell recalled to Fox News Digital. “I would go home with a kid and sometimes those parents would say to me, ‘Hey, how did your mom really die? Did she die choking on a ham sandwich?'”

Mama Cass Elliot singing into a mic onstage

Cass Elliot recently went viral on TikTok thanks to her classic hit, “Make Your Own Kind of Music.” (David Redfern/Getty Images)

“They would believe that she had died choking on a ham sandwich, which is what was released to the press immediately following her death, because she died in her sleep,” Elliot-Kugell reflected. “We didn’t know what was happening for a while and in the very beginning… paparazzi was just starting. I think that it was easier to make up that stupid story that was not true.”

Elliott-Kugell admitted that the salacious tale haunted her.

Book cover for 'My Mama, Cass'

Owen Elliot-Kugell hopes to set the record straight with her memoir, “My Mama, Cass.” (Hachette Books)

“It’s just such a gross rumor,” she reflected. “Even from the point of being overweight, and it’s somebody who dies of eating. All of those connotations that came along with that rumor were pretty hard for us. But I also knew how ridiculous they were. So I almost felt bad for people who really believed that. I’m like, ‘Wow, really? We really believe that?’ Mama says you can’t fix stupid.”

Owen Elliot-Kugell sitting inside a car with a group of people

Owen Elliot-Kugell is seen here as a child with her family heading to the funeral of her mother, Cass Elliot, in Los Angeles on Aug. 2, 1974. (Michael Ochs Archive/Getty Images)

Sue Cameron, a longtime columnist for The Hollywood Reporter who was friends with the late songstress, tried to clear up the rumor in her book, “Hollywood Secrets and Scandals.”

“Regarding the ham sandwich — I was the reporter who broke that story,” Cameron previously claimed to Fox News Digital. “I walked in after lunch and people in the newsroom told me she died. I was in a state of shock but stopped them from writing the obit. I called Cass’ apartment in London, and her manager, Allan Carr, was sobbing as he answered the phone. I was crying, too.”


Paparazzi swarming a car

Following the funeral of Cass Elliot, the media surrounds the car carrying her 7-year-old daughter, Owen. (Mark Sullivan/Getty Images)

“I asked what happened,” Cameron shared. “He said, ‘I need a favor and, since you’re Cass’ friend, you’ll do it. I’m looking at a half-eaten ham sandwich on her nightstand. Write the story that she choked on it and died. Do you hear me? Write that story now.’… I immediately wrote that story and kept my mouth shut for years about it.”

Cameron claimed that Carr wanted “to save her reputation.”

“The death report said she died of a heart attack,” Cameron stressed. “That’s better for history.”

Cass Elliot wearing a colorful dress

Cass Elliot died in 1974. She was 32. (Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)

For her book, Elliot-Kugell tracked down her mother’s last living confidantes. She also connected with Cameron. While no drugs were found in Cass’ system at the time of her death, many of her peers had died from drug overdoses. Both Elliot-Kugell and Cameron believed that Carr was worried the press would make the same assumption.

New York Times bestseller Scott G. Shea also attempted to clear up the misconception in his 2023 book, “All the Leaves Are Brown: How the Mamas & the Papas Came Together and Broke Apart.”

Cass Elliot smiling and sitting on top of a motorcycle

Cass Elliot died from a heart attack. (Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)

“After performing for two weeks and receiving rave reviews, she was at [singer-songwriter] Harry Nilsson’s apartment and died in her sleep,” Shea told Fox News Digital at the time. “It appeared she had fixed herself a late-night snack, which was a ham sandwich. It was placed on a nightstand. A doctor told a journalist that she might have choked on the ham sandwich. That reporter ran with that story.”


A close-up of Cass Elliot in a glamour shot from 1970

For decades, it’s been alleged that Cass Elliot died after choking on a ham sandwich. The rumor isn’t true, her daughter told Fox News Digital. (Donaldson Collection/Getty Images)

“There was a full autopsy investigation,” Shea continued. “They found it was heart failure due to a variety of things… She took a lot of LSD, and then she started on heroin. Now, she wasn’t on heroin at that point in her life, but that likely weakened her heart with time. And she was on a lot of yo-yo diets where she would lose 100 pounds, gain it back and lose it again for show business. All of those things together contributed to her heart failure.”

The Mamas and the Papas singing together at the recording studio

The Mamas & The Papas performed from 1965 to 1968, skyrocketing to fame. They saw their song “Monday, Monday” reach the top of the Billboard singles chart in 1966 and earned a Grammy for it in 1967. (Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)

Another rumor that Elliot-Kugell was eager to debunk in her book was the identity of her biological father. She learned that he was touring bassist Charles “Chuck” Day with the help of Cass’ former bandmate, Michelle Phillips.

“I was 19… and I asked her if she would help me find my real biological father,” Elliot-Kugell explained to Fox News Digital. “She said she had her assistant or a friend of hers put an ad in a newspaper… One of his friends saw the ad in the newspaper and called the number that was part of the ad. The first thing that the guy said was, ‘Is this about the kid?’”

Cass Elliot embracing her daughter

Cass Elliot welcomed her only child in 1967. (Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)

“Michelle had a plane ticket for me and said, ‘Go meet your biological father,'” she shared. “She helped end that mystery for me, which had been a mystery for a long time.”

Day, who died in 2008, was eager to tell his daughter the truth.

Class Elliot singing into a mic

Cass Elliot had a one-night stand with a touring bassist, Charles “Chuck” Day. He died in 2008. (Michael Ochs Archives/Getty Images)

“I didn’t have to ask a lot of questions,” Elliot-Kugell explained. “He was more than happy to just be very forthcoming with most of the information… I was curious about how they [knew] each other. It turns out that he was the bass player in the band in the summer of 1966. They became friends that way, and I was the product of a one-night stand. They had actually been together one time.”


A close-up of Cass Elliot

For the rest of her life, Cass Elliot kept the identity of her child’s father a secret. (ABC Photo Archives/Disney General Entertainment Content via Getty Images)

“In case anybody’s keeping score of what they tell you in health class… [it] just takes one time,” she chuckled.

In 1967, Cass welcomed her only child. The identity of her child’s father was kept secret for the rest of the star’s life.

“When she decided to have a child, when she realized that was something she wanted to do, one of the things that she said to her friends [who later told me] was… ‘I don’t need a man. I’m a rock star. I have plenty of money. I have everything I need. I can do this all myself,’” said Elliot-Kugell.

Owen Elliot-Kugell standing with the members of the Mamas and the Papas

From left: Owen Elliot-Kugell, Michelle Phillips, Denny Doherty and John Phillips are seen after The Mamas & The Papas were inducted into the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame. Elliot-Kugel was present on behalf of her late mother. (John Levy/AFP via Getty Images)

“That’s the decision… she made, to have a child. I was born out of her wanting to have somebody in her life that wasn’t going to leave. She had had a string of relationships with men, and they weren’t always there because they loved her. They were there because she was a rock star… She really wanted somebody that was going to be there all the time. That’s why she named me Owen. She said, ‘She’s my very own.’”

A colored photo of the Mamas and the Papas wearing 60s fashion

Cass Elliot pursued a successful solo career after her time with The Mamas & The Papas. (GAB Archive/Redferns/Getty Images)

Elliot-Kugell said she still has vivid dreams of her mother. During the final months of Cass’ life, she kept busy performing and traveling. It was a triumphant, hopeful time for the singer, said Elliot-Kugell.

“I remember her warmth,” she beamed. “I remember just how giving she was, how loving she was.”


Michelle Phillips looking at a portrait of Mama Cass

Michelle Phillips is the last surviving member of The Mamas & The Papas. (Frazer Harrison/Getty Images)

Today, Elliot-Kugell hopes to shed new light on her mother for both new and longtime fans.

Owen Elliot-Kugell posing next to her mother's star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame

Owen Elliot-Kugell is seen with her mother’s star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame, circa 2022. (Gilbert Flores/Variety via Getty Images)

“There’s a whole story there about a family who, like many other families, immigrated to the United States,” she said. “A few generations later, [my mother] is getting a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame… It’s the American dream. You can come to this country and make an honest living. You can do your thing, and you can end up making your dreams come true.”

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