Mama Cass Elliot Net Worth

What was Mama Cass Elliot’s net worth?

Mama Cass Elliot (1941 – 1974) was an American singer and actress who had a net worth of $20 thousand at the time of her death (after adjusting for inflation). Technically speaking, at the time of her death, Cass was financially insolvent. However, her sole heir, her daughter Owen, has reportedly earned seven figures from royalties over the decades.

She was best known for being a key member of the vocal group the Mamas & the Papas. Elliot was recognized for her sense of humor and optimism and was considered by many to be the most charismatic member of the group. As a solo artist and group member, Mama Cass sold over 100 million albums during her lifetime worldwide.

Early Life

Ellen Naomi Cohen, known professionally as “Cass Elliot,” was born in Baltimore, Maryland, on September 19, 1941, the daughter of Philip (died 1962) and Bess Cohen (1915–1994). All four of her grandparents were Russian-Jewish immigrants. Her family was subject to significant financial stress and uncertainties during her childhood years. Her father, involved in several business ventures, ultimately succeeded through the development of a lunch wagon in Baltimore that provided meals to construction workers. Her mother was a trained nurse. Elliot had a brother, Joseph, and a younger sister, Lead, who also became a singer and recording artist. Elliot’s early life was spent with her family in Alexandria, Virginia, and the family moved to Baltimore when Elliot was 15, where they had briefly lived at the time of Elliot’s birth.

When Elliot’s family returned to Baltimore, she attended Forest Park High School. While attending Forest Park High School, Elliot became interested in acting. She landed a small part in the play “The Boy Friend,” a summer stock production at the Hilltop Theatre in Owings Mills, Maryland. When her interest in the entertainment industry grew stronger, she adopted the name “Cass.”. She assumed the surname “Elliot” sometime later, in memory of a friend who had died. She left high school shortly before graduation and moved to New York City to further her acting career (as recounted in the lyrics to Creeque Alley).

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Early Career

After leaving high school to pursue an entertainment career in New York, Elliot toured in the musical “The Music Man” in 1962 under the name Cass Elliot but lost the part of Miss Marmelstein in “I Can Get It for You Wholesale” to Barbra Streisand.

Elliot did not pursue music until she moved to the Washington D.C. area to attend American University. America’s folk music scene was on the rise at the time, and as Elliot started to consider a singing career, she met banjoist and singer Tim Rose and singer John Brown. The three began performing as the Triumvirate. In 1963, James Hendricks replaced Brown, and the trio was renamed the Big 3. Elliot’s first recording with the Big 3 was “Winken, Blinken, and Nod,” released by FM Records in 1963. Tim Rose left the Big 3 in 1964, so Elliot and Hendricks teamed with Canadians Zal Yanovsky and Denny Doherty to form the Mugwumps. This group lasted eight months, after which Cass performed as a solo act for a while.

In the meantime, Yanovsky and John Sebastian co-founded the Lovin’ Spoonful, while Doherty joined the New Journeymen, a group that included John Phillips and his wife Michelle. IN 1965, Doherty persuaded Phillips that Elliot should join the group, which she did while the group members and she were vacationing in the Virgin Islands.

Elliot claims that, during this trip to the Virgin Islands, her vocal range was improved by three notes after she was hit on the head by some copper tubing while walking through a construction site. Friends later said that the pipe story was a less embarrassing explanation for why John Phillips had kept her out of the group for so long because he considered her too fat.

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The Mamas & the Papas

With two female members, the New Journeymen needed a new name, and they agreed on the Mamas & the Papas. The group lasted from 1965 to 1968. According to Doherty, as written on his website, Elliot had the inspiration for the band’s new name. Doherty also said that the occasion marked the beginning of his affair with Michelle Phillips. Elliot was in love with Doherty and was displeased when he told her of the affair. Doherty has said that Elliot once proposed to him but that he was “so stoned at the time that he could not even respond.”

The group released their debut studio album, “If You Can Believe Your Eyes and Ears,” in 1966 and reached #1 on the Billboard 200 and #3 in the UK. Their self-titled album was released in 1966 and reached #4 on the Billboard 200. The group’s album The Mamas & The Papas Deliver was released in 1967 and reached #1 on the U.S. Cashbox chart and #2 on the Billboard 200. They released the album The Papas & the Mamas in 1968 and People Like Us in 1971. The Mamas & the Papas had a #1 single on both the Billboard Hot 100 and the U.S. Cashbox charts with “Monday, Monday.”

Elliot’s powerful, distinctive voice was a major factor in their string of hits. She received the Grammy Award for Best Contemporary (R&R) Performance for “Monday, Monday” in 1967.

After the breakup of the Mamas and the Papas, Elliot embarked on a solo singing career. Her most successful recording during this period was 1968’s “Dream a Little Dream of Me” from her solo album of the same name, though it had originally been released earlier that year on the album “The Mamas & The Papas.” She went on to release five studio albums. In 1998, she was posthumously inducted into the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame for her work with the Mamas & the Papas.

Personal Life

Elliot was married twice, the first time in 1963 to Jim Hendricks, her group mate in the Big 3 and the Mugwumps. It was a marriage of convenience to assist him in avoiding being drafted during the Vietnam War. The marriage was never consummated and was annulled in 1968. In 1971, Elliot married journalist Donald von Wiedenman, heir to a Bavarian barony. Their marriage ended in divorce after a few months.

Elliot gave birth to her daughter, Owen Vanessa Elliot-Kugell, on April 26, 1967. Elliot-Kugell also grew up to become a singer and toured with Beach Boys member Al Jardine. Cass Elliot never publicly identified the father, but many years later, Michelle Phillips helped Elliot-Kugell locate her biological father, Chuck Day. His paternity was not publicly revealed until his 2008 death.

After Elliot’s death, her younger sister, Leah Kunkel, gained custody of seven-year-old Owen and raised her along with her own son, Nathaniel.

Final performances, death, and funeral

On April 22, 1974, Elliot collapsed in the California television studio of “The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson” immediately before her scheduled appearance on the show. She was treated at a hospital, released, and dismissed the incident as simple exhaustion in interviews.

She finished two weeks of solo concerts at the London Palladium on July 27, 1974, and went on a 24-hour celebration. She first attended the 31st birthday party of Mick Jagger at his home on Tite Street in Chelsea, London. After the party, Elliot went to a brunch in her honor presented by Georgia Brown. While there, according to biographer Eddi Fiegel, Elliot was blowing her nose frequently, coughing, and having trouble breathing. Next, she attended a cocktail party hosted by American entertainment journalist Jack Martin. She seemed in high spirits but also appeared physically exhausted and sick. Elliot left that party at 8:00 p.m. on Sunday, July 28, saying she was tired and needed to get some sleep.

Elliot retired to an apartment in Mayfair owned by singer-songwriter Harry Nilsson, who allowed her to stay there. Several hours after Elliot left Jack Martin’s cocktail party, she died in her sleep at age 32. According to Keith Simpson, who conducted her autopsy, she died of a heart attack, and there were no drugs in her system. Four years later, Keith Moon, drummer for the Who, died in the same bedroom, also aged 32 years.

Elliot’s body was cremated at the Hollywood Forever Cemetery in Los Angeles, California. Her ashes were later buried in Mount Sinai Memorial Park Cemetery in Los Angeles.

False Ham Sandwich Legend

In the years after Mama Cass’ death, a false legend spread that claimed she died from choking on a ham sandwich. The legend was reinvigorated in the 1997 film “Austin Powers”, when the titular character, played by Mike Myers, made a Mama Cass ham sandwich joke.

Cass’ surviving daughter, Owen has been haunted by the ham sandwich story for her entire life. For her 2024 biography “My Mama, Cass: A Memoir,” Owen went to great lengths to track down the origin of the ham sandwich story and to dispel it once and for all. She recounts how she was constantly asked about the sandwich, even as a young child, by strangers and her friends’ parents. According to Owen’s research, the ham sandwich story originated from a Hollywood Reporter columnist named Sue Cameron. Owen reached out to Sue to understand the backstory. Sue claimed that she heard that anecdote from Mama Cass’ manager, Allan Carr, soon after the singer’s death. She called Mama Cass’ apartment in London, not knowing that Mama Cass had died. When he picked up the phone, Carr was reportedly crying and said, “There’s a half-eaten ham sandwich on the nightstand.” Hoping to offset rumors that her death was drug-related, a panicked Carr told Sue Cameron, “You have to do this. Just say she died choking on the sandwich.” No drugs were found in Cass’ system.


All net worths are calculated using data drawn from public sources. When provided, we also incorporate private tips and feedback received from the celebrities or their representatives. While we work diligently to ensure that our numbers are as accurate as possible, unless otherwise indicated they are only estimates. We welcome all corrections and feedback using the button below.

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