Nearly fifty years after “Mama” Cass Elliot’s death, the singer – who helped shape the folk rock movement of the 1960s as part of The Mamas & The Papas – received a star on the Hollywood Walk of Fame on Monday (Oct. 3). Helping to celebrate was Michelle Phillips, who sang alongside “Mama” Cass, Denny Doherty, and John Phillips in the iconic group. The ceremony was a family affair, as Michelle, 78, joined daughter Chynna Philips, Carnie Wilson, and Wendy Wilson – aka Wilson Philips – as well as other living legends.
Bijou Phillips and Mackenzie Phillips, daughters of the late John Philips, were on-hand, as well as Cass’ child Owen Elliot-Kugell, Mickey Dolenz, John Sebastian, Stephen Stills, Beverly D’Angelo, and Cass’ sister Leah Kunkell. The icons watched as Cass’s star was unveiled on the stretch of Hollywood Boulevard between Sycamore and LaBrea. Her star is alongside the stars of Sidney Poitier and Tyne Daly, according to Variety.
In the late 1980s, the legacy of The Mamas & The Papas continued with the formation of Wilson Philips. The group, featuring Carnie, 54, Wendy, 52 (the daughters of Brian Wilson of The Beach Boys and Marilyn Wilson-Rutherford), and Chynna (the child of Michelle and John Philips) found success with their vivid vocal harmonies. In 1990, Wilson Phillips won the Billboard Music Award for Hot 100 Single of the Year for “Hold On.”
Cass Elliot died in a London flat in 1974 at the age of 32. “I can’t tell you the number of people over the years who have told me how much my mother’s music and who she was affected them, and made a major difference in their lives,” Owen Elliot-Kugell told Variety. He was 7 when she passed away. “The childhood memories I have are not numerous, but they are vivid,” he said. “I do have a treasure trove of written and video interviews, including one from The Dinah Shore Show, when she brought me along. Getting to see our interaction was incredibly meaningful for me. … When I find out these things, I can feel them on a cellular level that they’re true. I can just tell instinctually. I’ve had to learn about her, and I’m constantly seeking out more information.”
Though Cass passed away in her sleep, an urban legend rose after her death, claiming she died by choking on a ham sandwich. Writer Lexi Pandell explained on You Must Remember This that Cass’s death was heart failure, likely brought on by her history of crash dieting.
“[Elliot’s] official cause of death was labeled as ‘fatty myocardial degeneration due to obesity—but that would still be a shocking cause of death for such a young woman and has largely been refuted,” Pandell told Vogue in 2021. “From the research I’ve done and the doctors I spoke to, it seems the most likely cause of death was extreme dieting in combination with long-term substance abuse.” Pandell said that present-day fatphobia continues to obfuscate Cass’s death, because “confronting the possibility that Cass may have died due to extreme dieting challenges our idealization of diet culture.”