Mayfair, and the Deaths of Harry Nilsson, Mama Cass and Keith Moon

 


Mama Cass in London

Mama Cass Elliot famously died choking on a ham sandwich, everybody knows that. Except she didn’t. The myth started because the first doctor who examined her after her death, a Dr Anthony Greenburgh, told the press the next day:

“From what I saw when I got to the flat she appeared to have been eating a ham sandwich and drinking Coca-Cola while lying down – a very dangerous thing to do…she seemed to have choked on a ham sandwich”.

Dr Greenbugh overlooked the rather important fact that the sandwich was by the side of her bed and lay untouched but by then it was too late. The press reported his initial comments and the doctor unwittingly gave rise to the sandwich myth.

Elliot actually died from the far more prosaic “fatty myocardial degeneration due to obesity” in other words natural causes due to being overweight – she was prone to going on crash diets which in the end fatally weakened her heart. The sandwich story was a famous case of when “the legend becomes fact, print the legend”.

Mama Cass in Soho Square

Mama Cass in Soho Square 1969

Mama Cass in Soho Square

Mama Cass at Crockford's Casino in Mayfair

Mama Cass at Crockford's Casino, round the corner from Nilsson's flat in Mayfair

On 29 July 1974 Cass Elliot had just finished two nights at the Palladium and was pleased with the several standing ovations she had received. Before she went to bed she called her former band member Michelle Phillips who later recounted:
“She had had a little champagne, and was crying. She felt she had finally made the transition from Mama Cass”.

Cass Elliot was just 33 when she died.

9 Curzon Place in Mayfair (now 1 Curzon Square)

9 Curzon Place in Mayfair (now 1 Curzon Square)

harry-nilsson-from-mojo-425

The small one-bedroom Mayfair flat at 12 Curzon Place (now 1 Curzon Square after some rather revolting 1980s redevelopment in the area) in which Cass Elliot died belonged to her friend the singer Harry Nilsson. He had bought it impressed with the location, it was near Apple Records (he was a good friend of The Beatles) but more importantly near the Playboy Club and Tramps disco.

The top floor flat, behind the relatively nondescript exterior, had been designed by a trendy company called ROR which was run by Nilsson’s friend Ringo Starr and the designer Robin Cruikshank. Nilsson was away from London a lot and was very happy lending his place to his musician friends, of which he had many.

Robin Cruikshank interior

Robin Cruikshank interior

Playboy Club in London 1969

Playboy Club in London 1969

Hugh Hefner at London's Playboy Club in Park Lane

Hugh Hefner at London's Playboy Club in Park Lane

Keith Moon with Annette Walter Lax 1977

Keith Moon with Annette Walter Lax 1977

Keith and Annette the evening he died

Keith and Annette the evening he died

Four years after Cass Elliot died at Harry Nilsson’s flat, Keith Moon, after fitting in enough partying and convivial nights in his short life for about a hundred people, died of an overdose of Heminevrin tablets in the very same bed. On the day he died Moon had woken at 7.30am and he asked his girlfriend Annette Walter-Lax to cook him a steak.

After she complained about cooking him another meal he said,

“If you don’t like it, you can fuck off”

Unfortunately for Keith these ended up being his last words. He ate the steak while he watched the film The Abominable Dr Phibes but he fell back to sleep after taking 32 Heminevrin tablets which were prescribed to help alcohol withdrawal. Unfortunately six are enough to be fatal and Moon never regained consciousness. He was found dead by his girlfriend Annette later that afternoon and he was cremated at Golders Green Crematorium a week later.

Moon the Loon was only thirty two when he died, but dying young didn’t come to anyone’s great surprise – he was one of the greatest partiers ever. He once outlined his typical daily diet to a doctor:

“I always get up about six in the morning. I have my bangers and eggs. And I drink a bottle of Dom Perignon and half a bottle of brandy. Then I take a couple of downers. Then it’s about 10 and I’ll have a nice nap until five. I get up, have a couple of black beauties [also known as Black Birds or Black Bombers and are a combination of Amphetamine (Speed) and Dextroamphetamine], some brandy, a little champagne and go out on the town. Then we boogie. We’ll wrap it up about four”.

All in all not the usual recipe for a long and healthy life but he sure fitted in some fun while he was around.

Carousing

Carousing

more carousing

more carousing

Mama's Got A Squeeze box

Mama's Got A Squeeze box

Harry and Keith became friends in the first place because of their mutual love of the booze. They met on a set of a film produced by Ringo Starr called Son Of Dracula with a number of other musicians. Keith remembered:

“We were supposed to be on the set at six, but it was nine before everyone was there. Then somebody brought out a bottle of brandy. Me, I think. Ah-Ha-Ha-HAHAHA! And Peter Frampton said no, no, too early, and some of the others said no. But ‘Arry was standing there with an ‘alf-pint mug. I knew at that moment it was destiny put us together. Ahhhh-HAHAHAHAHAHAHA!”

After the death of a second friend in his bed Nilsson quickly sold his flat to fellow Who member Pete Townsend and moved back to Los Angeles permanently. Of course like Cass, and especially Moon, Harry Nilsson liked having a good time and his consumption of drink and drugs were once described as Herculean, which is one way of describing pissing your talent away for over twenty years.

Marianne Faithfull once said about Harry

“we used to do drugs together. And when I say drugs, I don’t mean those airy-fairy drugs they do nowadays. I’m talking about narcotics.”

Elton John once described seeing Nilsson in a recording studio,

‘He opened his mouth to sing, and blood poured out, he had done so much coke that his throat just haemorrhaged. And do you know what? He didn’t even notice.’

Compared with his two friends however, he managed to live to a relatively grand old age of fifty two before his body gave up. After surviving one the previous year he died of a second heart attack in 1994. At his funeral it was said that aftershocks from the recent Northridge Earthquake rumbled in the background. A joke made the rounds during the funeral that the earthquake was the result of Harry getting to Heaven and discovering that there were no bars.

It’s perhaps interesting to note that Mama Cass, a person it would be fair to say liked a bit of food, died from trying not to eat with a heart fatally weakened by too many diets. Coincidentally Keith Moon, a man with a prodigious appetite for booze, died from an overdose of medicine prescribed in an attempt to stop him drinking.

I’m not sure if Nilsson died from anything that was the opposite of what he liked to do, but not long before his first heartattack he found out that his entire $5 million fortune had been embezzled leaving him and his family almost destitute.

It was said that he never really recovered from the shock. In 2001 the building at Curzon Place containing Harry Nilsson’s old flat was bought by a developer who completely changed the interior and the three flats on Harry’s floor were knocked into two luxury flats. In 2002 these were placed up for sale at one million pounds each.

harry-nilsson-425

More information of the three deaths at www.findadeath.com

More information about Harry Nilsson at fortheloveofharry.blogspot.com

Harry Nilsson – Lazy Moon
Dr Hook – Mama’s Got A Squeezebox
The Mama and The Papas – 12.30 (Young Girls Are Coming To The Canyon)
Badfinger – Without You
Harry Nilsson – Wasting My Time
Ella and Louis – Dream A Little Dream About Me
Peter and the Test Tube Babies – Spirit Of Keith Moon
Mama Cass – Make Your Own Kind Of Music
Harry Nilsson – Simon Smith and the Amazing Dancing Bear
Harry Nilsson – Jumping Into The Fire

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24 Responses to “Mayfair, and the Deaths of Harry Nilsson, Mama Cass and Keith Moon”

  1. Timmy says:

    A heart wrenching post here. 3 very talented individuals whose music has inspired us in many ways. Death is a tragic change of atmosphere, for the departed, as well as the remaining.

  2. Anonymous says:

    At age 52 I started to take better care of myself.

  3. ian gordon says:

    I didn’t know the specific details of Mamma Cass’s death, nor of this macabre coincidence in the location of these deaths.

    Keith Moon with the Who in 1970 – 74 was just a force of nature, and one I’m glad to have witnessed up close 3 times.

    Mikey Dolenz tells a story about bringing Badfinger’s “Without You” to the attention of Nilsson. He claims that, to ensure Harry listened to it, he told him it was a Beatles demo…

    Further recommended listening: “Pussy Cats”, the album Lennon produced by Nilsson with Moon (and Ringo) on drums. That was surely some party.

  4. Davy H says:

    I didn’t know any of this, and you’ve told the story so well.

    I’m always a bit English about this sort of comment, but I really do have to say Rob – ‘I love your blog!!!’

  5. Anonymous says:

    great stuff,i knew it all but not about the flats becoming 2…good photos too

  6. Caroline says:

    I have a notion that Harry Nilsson married a girl my mum knew from university, I must ask her.

  7. Guy Pratt says:

    I thought Townshend already owned the flat when Moon died, as noone in London would rent him anywhere!

  8. yet another excellent post..compellling read. thanks
    themusicologist

  9. fredde says:

    yes, a sad ending for three talented people, but if you drink to much water you drown, and if you drick to much acohol you die,

  10. Tony says:

    I agree with the musicologist, very compelling reading. Harry and John Lennon were great friends in LA and spent much time together. A bit disappointing to see what shape he was in before he died but a brilliant mind and writer, not to mention the haunting voice, a trait he shared with Mama Cass.

  11. Walter Lee says:

    Harry Nillson not only he lost his friend John Lennon, he lost two other friends Mama Cass and Keith Moon.Nillson was a friend to Rino Starr and John Lennon The Beatles as well as Micky Dolenz of The Monkees in which he wrote a song for them.that why the song Without You sung by Nillson and written by two decased memebers of Badfinger Pete Ham and Tom Evans,Nillson and Badfinger have one thing in common they have connection with the Beatles

  12. bill says:

    Im a big fan of keith and must say that I’ve never seen those pics of him partying before (probably because they are x rated). I am on a visit to london and also in my spare time decided to check out “flat 12 , 9 curzon place” , but because the address is always described incorrectly on websites , I battled to find the building on 2 seperate visits to the area. Curzon place it seems was a side street just off curzon street. Curzon place is now no more ( probably for over 20 years) and has been paved over completely. It is now a walkway between nielsens flat and another building that stands next to it. For anybody like me looking to sight see the flat just go to 18 curzon street and there it is ! (many buildings in curzon street look similair. Excellent article and I wonder if Apple records is still there. I think the movie theatre where keith went to see the premier of the buddy holly movie is atpund the corner from
    the flat..anyway great article and thanks !!

  13. Tulio Guerrero says:

    I remember a concert promoted by Bill Graham and given by the WHO at the COW Palace San Francisco in 1.974, after their third song, Keith Moon passed out and fell backwards from the drum tower and couldn´t continue so Peter Townshend asked the public if anyone could play the drums for them. At first nobody believed and after a few seconds there were like a hundred arms up in the air, he picked one who got on stage and played very badly for about 20 minutes.
    So somebody out there can be telling his grandchildren’s, I PLAYED WITH THE WHO

  14. This was my response when my friend Pete posted this on my Facebook timeline: Bloody scary coincidences! The Cass ham sandwich thing has always pissed me off, because even though the real cause of death was revealed something like forty-eight hours later, the press either couldn’t be bothered retracting it or buried it in two lines at the back of the papers. As a result, Cass has become more famous for her death than for her life, which is incredibly shitty, because she had truckloads of talent, and isn’t even mentioned when music journos talk about legends.

  15. Gary Nilsson says:

    Going over to London next June. Relly looking forward seeing the flat where alot of partying went on. I knew of Harry’s flat but he never invited me over. Guess I’ll Stand outside and salute Harry with Brandy Alexander in one hand and a wave with the other.

    Gary Nilsson
    Harry’s brother

  16. Ted Parkinson says:

    Gary, good to hear from you. We met at the Nilssonfest in Orlando a few years back and you had some touching stories.

    At the Nilssonfest in London (a few years ago as well) we did a walk around SOHO and saw the Curzon building although it has been redeveloped and is not the same as when Harry had the flat. It was fun walking around the area and thinking Harry had been there so many years ago. In fact, there was an article on the Monkees on the window of some restaurant or pub which I thought an interesting coincidence.

    I think it’s a little false to compare Harry’s death to Keith Moon because it is true that he partied a lot for many years, but I had heard he had slowed down considerably in the last few years with so many young kids around and just did not have a great heart which gave out. So it did not do himself any favours, but he did create many albums worth of amazing music for us to listen to!

    Ted

  17. Gary Nilsson says:

    Hi Ted: I do remember you at Harryfest in Orlando. It’s been a really long time. Shoot me an email and maybe we’ll talk some music and talk about Harry some.
    Gary

  18. Gary Nilsson says:

    My dad Harry Nilsson II and My Grandfather Harry Nilsson the I and my brother Harry Nilson III all died in their 50′s. I am very happy to be the first in my male family to make it to 60. I just turned 61 and hope to have many many years left. I do miss all the Harry’s and wish they were still here.
    Gary Nilsson

  19. aidan mcmanus says:

    Could I possibly get the password to see the Clapham Common murder story?love your site,thanks

  20. Bobby Barbare says:

    Gary, I can sense you miss your brother dearly. A cocktail salute is definitely in order. Cheers to you and Harry!

  21. Gary Nilsson says:

    Thanks Bobby!

  22. robbie says:

    interesting reading, got to think this flat is spooked

  23. joseph says:

    its cool to read the article and then to read comments from harry’s brother and son… thanks you guys… gonna order a brandy alexander (milkshake) tonight in your honor…

  24. Steve says:

    Recently discovered this blog which is one of the best I’ve come across. This item really chimes with me because I was at Mama Cass’s final performance at the Paladium on that fateful evening. As a 13 year old on holiday in London I had been taken there by my parents who were big fans. I also recall that the support act were the band ‘Paper Lace’ who had had a recent number 1 hit with ‘Billy don’t be a hero ‘. Earlier that week we had been due to visit the tower of London but my dad changed his mind that morning and took us to Madame Tussauds instead. That afternoon the IRA bombed the tower.

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