Back in 1974, Hollywood Reporter columnist Sue Cameron reported that Mama Cass of the 1960s group the Mamas & the Papas died after choking on a ham sandwich. Now, the writer and friend of the late singer says the “ham sandwich” part of the story wasn’t true and despite debunking the story, it endures.
On July 29, 1974, singer Cass Elliot died in London. She was 32. Upon hearing the news, Cameron called the London phone number she had for her friend.
“Her manager Allan Carr picked up the phone and he was hysterical. Allan said, ‘You’ve got to tell them that she died choking on a ham sandwich. You must go to your typewriter and write that. There’s a half of a ham sandwich on her nightstand,'” Cameron tells People.
“I didn’t ask any questions,” she added. “I knew she didn’t choke on a ham sandwich. I didn’t believe Allan but I thought just do it because something was wrong.”
The ham sandwich became Hollywood legend, which Cameron later debunked in her 2018 book Hollywood Secrets And Scandals.
“The ham sandwich went worldwide,” she explains. “Many people don’t realize that it’s not even true. Even though I have said — and written — it’s not true, it still goes on. I never thought it would last as long as it has.”
A few days after her death, Cameron and Carr were reunited in person to grieve Cass’ death.
“We held each other and cried and cried,” she says. “He said, ‘Thank you for writing that, I was trying to save her reputation.’ It was a horrible loss.”
An autopsy revealed Cass died of a heart attack, but still, the legend of the ham sandwich continued to grow. While no drugs were found in her system at the time of her death, stories of her drug abuse and crash dieting that may have weakened her heart publicly spread.
“Afterwards people who had been around her would say, ‘You mean, you didn’t know?'” Cameron says. “But I never saw any drugs. I was so straight-laced, that people, even if they did drugs, didn’t do them around me.”
Cameron recalls the agony of Cass’s diet struggles during their friendship.
“Cass was overweight and there was a lot of body shaming then but we didn’t call it that,” she says. “She covered it up. She was the ‘funny one’. It was horrible for her, to be thought of as ‘the fat one’ and Michelle [Phillips] the pretty one. People would say that to Cass’s face. She had to suck it up and laugh.”
Now, Cameron chooses to remember her “free spirit[ed] and very sophisticated” friend, sharing details about the last time they saw each other, just days before her death.
“It was the night before she was flying to London to open her solo concert series at the Palladium,” Cameron shares. “We cruised along Mulholland Drive in her electric blue Cadillac. ‘Monday, Monday’ came on the radio and she sang along. She was so happy. She had really made it.”