Cass Elliot was “Mama Cass,” the nearly 300 pound contralto lead singer of The Mamas and The Papas, a dominant folk rock vocal group in the late 1960s. They sold more than 40 million records, with six of their albums making it to the Billboard top ten. A hippie group that dressed as they pleased, they were torn apart by many love affairs, addiction to various drugs, heavy drinking and smoking. After the group broke up in 1968, Mama Cass went on to a solo career and released five solo albums.
On July 29, 1974, the 32-year-old singer was found dead in her hotel room in London. Her manager, Allan Carr, suspected that she died of a drug overdose and didn’t want that information to go public, so he told a columnist, “You’ve got to tell them that she died from choking on a ham sandwich.” On the anniversary of her death in 2020, People Magazine (July 29, 2020) ran an article saying that the ham sandwich wasn’t even eaten and that the choking story was not true. The columnist said that Mama Cass’s manager told her, “Thank you for writing that, I was trying to save her reputation. It was a horrible loss.” Later, the autopsy showed that Cass Elliot had died of heart failure and no drugs were found in her system. She had the perfect set-up for heart failure:
• massive obesity,
• extensive use of recreational drugs,
• repeated crash diets with which she lost and regained weight,
• a pro-inflammatory diet, and
• lack of exercise.
Ellen Naomi Cohen was born in Baltimore in 1941, to parents who were children of Russian Jewish immigrants. The family was poor until her father finally derived regular income by selling meals to construction workers from a lunch wagon. Her mother was a registered nurse. As a child and a teenager, she was always very overweight, but she said that she had such a high IQ (165) that she had “the mental and emotional tools to deal with it.” In high school, she took the name Cass Elliot, partly in honor of a friend who had died. At age 17, she left for New York to become an actress and was never graduated from high school. She worked checking coats in a theater for a while and then moved to Washington DC to attend American University. In 1963, at age 22, she sang in a trio called “The Triumvirate” which changed its name to “The Big Three.”
The Mamas and The Papas
In 1965 at age 24, she got her big break. She was accepted into a singing group that contained husband and wife John and Michelle Phillips, and Denny Doherty. They called themselves The Mamas and The Papas. They were very successful musically, but socially they failed miserably. It is incredible that the group stayed together for three years. Cass Elliot fell in love with the single male, Denny Doherty, but he never was in love with her, so she was miserable. Michelle Phillips had an affair with Denny Doherty, even though she was married to John Phillips. Cass was devastated and asked Michelle, “I don’t get it. You could have any man you want. Why would you take mine?” Cass was very successful as a singer but a total failure in controlling her massive obesity. She told reporters, “It’s easy to find boyfriends. I buy them a motorcycle, a leather suit, and put them in acting school.” The group was so successful musically and financially that they stayed together for three years in spite of their social problems, but they broke up in 1968. After that, Cass had such a beautiful voice that she was able to have a fairly successful solo singing career.
Her Death at Age 32
In July 1974, she gave solo concerts at the London Palladium for two weeks. She told friends that she suffered from vomiting for several weeks before that, possibly part of her efforts to lose weight. In the past, she had been known to alternate days of fasting with days of eating. She cancelled a TV appearance after feeling sick just before the broadcast. She also admitted shooting heroin. On July 28, 1974, she went to a cocktail party hosted by Mick Jagger, left early and returned to the apartment she was renting in an exclusive section of London. The next day, her body was found in her apartment. An autopsy revealed that she died from heart failure and no drugs were found in her body.
How Yo-Yo Diets Can Cause Heart Failure
Losing and gaining weight repeatedly can cause heart failure, which means that your heart is too weak to pump blood through your body. Every time that you lose weight, you lose fat and muscle. If you don’t exercise regularly, every time you regain the lost weight, you regain only fat. So with each yo-yo cycle, your heart muscle grows smaller and weaker until eventually the heart becomes too weak to pump enough oxygen to the brain. Then the person stops breathing and dies.
Obesity Can Kill by Causing Heart Attacks, Strokes and Diabetes
Your immune system is supposed to be good for you by killing germs that try to enter your body. As soon as the germ is gone, your immune system is supposed to dampen down until your next infection. Obesity can cause your immune system to stay active all the time so it uses the same cells and chemicals that kill germs to attack you, which is called inflammation. Inflammation can punch holes in the inner linings of arteries to start plaques forming. When a plaque is knocked off, it can bleed, clot and cause a heart attack or a stroke. Inflammation also prevents your liver from controlling your blood sugar level to cause diabetes.
Lessons from Cass Elliot’s Tragic Early Death
• There is no healthy obesity. If you are massively overweight, do something to help you lose weight permanently. Overweight causes inflammation that increases risk for heart attacks, strokes, diabetes and premature death. See Weight Loss with Intermittent Fasting
• To keep your heart strong and prevent heart failure, everyone should have a resistance exercise program (lifting weights)
• Never take recreational drugs unless you are willing to risk premature death.
• Since more than 40 percent of North Americans die of heart disease, everyone should strive for an anti-inflammatory lifestyle to help prevent heart disease.
Dr. Gabe Mirkin is a Villager. Learn more at www.drmirkin.com