The Real Reason Cass Elliot Nearly Didn't Join The Mamas And The Papas

Back in the 1960s, nobody did rock 'n' roll drama better than the Mamas and the Papas. The band, which featured the then-husband-and-wife duo of John and Michelle Phillips, Denny Doherty, and Cass Elliot, may have sounded like a happy foursome of friends on their records. However, the behind-the-scenes drug use, infidelity, and general infighting within the group painted a different picture than what most fans might have imagined while listening to their autobiographical hit "Creeque Alley." And when they disbanded in 1968, it was Elliot who seemed primed to be the band's post-breakup breakout star. Sadly, she never got to realize her full commercial potential, as she died at the shockingly young age of 32 on July 29, 1974.

During and after Elliot's short, yet fascinating life, there were quite a few rumors and urban legends that circulated about her, chief of these being the claim that she died after choking on a ham sandwich. Total bunk — Elliot actually died of a heart attack after struggling with obesity for most of her life. Then there's the story of how she joined the Mamas and the Papas. In 1968, she told Rolling Stone (via Biography) that while she was at a Virgin Islands nightclub, she got "hit on the head by a pipe that fell down," increasing her vocal range by three notes and allowing her to join the Mamas and the Papas once she got out of the hospital. But was there any truth to that tale?

For John Phillips, size allegedly mattered

Nowadays, we live in a far more inclusive world where one's size is not a hindrance to their viability as hitmakers. In the 1960s, however, overweight people in music were mostly doomed to languish as niche acts or make their name as novelty performers. Being fat was tantamount to being unattractive, and apparently, that was John Phillips' mindset when he was forming the Mamas and the Papas, who were then known as the New Journeymen. According to Legacy, there was no truth to the claim that Cass Elliot was only allowed to join after her alleged head injury suddenly — and implausibly — made her sing in a higher pitch.

As explained by Biography, the real reason Phillips didn't want Elliot in his new band had nothing to do with her vocal range. Instead, he purportedly felt that her weight might turn off the fans, hence his initial decision not to let her join the group. But after Elliot spent time following the other members around and proved to be a great fit for the band's harmonies, Phillips was finally convinced to extend her an invite and make her a full-fledged member of the would-be Mamas and the Papas. 

So why did Elliot make up the story about the head injury in the first place? Per Legacy, she was too embarrassed to admit that Phillips didn't want her in the Mamas and the Papas because he felt she was too fat. Thank goodness indeed for these more inclusive times.