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Cass Elliot is unfortunately best known today for the apocryphal and inaccurate story of how she died. Born Ellen Cohen in Baltimore, Cass died at 32 in a London flat, and when a police officer mentioned the presence of a half-eaten ham sandwich in the room to the press, the story evolved that Elliot died by choking on said sandwich.
The reality was that Elliot died of heart failure, and the coroner surmised this was likely brought on by her long history of crash diets (not to mention years of hard living and drug abuse). Considering Elliot spent most of her career struggling with her weight -- John Phillips resisted her addition to The Mamas and the Papas because he was convinced her size would hinder the group's success -- and having to prove her considerable talent in spite of her appearance, I’d be hard pressed to think of anything more tragic.
Sad demise aside, Elliot was a huge hippie icon and even, to some, a sex symbol, and she had mad style for miles, especially if you appreciate voluminous fabric and oversized prints. As proof that with commitment, even the most absurd clothing can be amazing, Elliot worked her loose tunics and ankle-length caftans like nobody's business. Here are some of my favorite inspirational pictures of her (from the internets, and from the awesome Hell Yeah Cass Elliot Tumblr).
And finally, my favorite song of hers -- and I know she didn't write it, but she sang it like she owned it, man.