As we celebrate 25 years since one of the highest-grossing Hollywood films hit theatres, Titanic is, once more, making headlines but not for the reasons you might think. No, we’re not here to talk about the renewed interest in Celine Dion’s cult hit “My Heart Will Go On,” or whether Leonardo DiCaprio’s doomed character actually could have survived on that floating piece of door (more on that below).
But in fact, it’s the mystery that has never been solved, even 25 years on: who spiked James Cameron’s Titanic crew with the illegal psychedelic drug, PCP?
Did you know, during a celebratory meal mid-way through filming Titanic, the entire cast and crew were poisoned with PCP-spiked clam chowder. To this day no one knows who was responsible.
.#Facts #titanic #didyouknow #fact #roseandjack #LeonardoDiCaprio #KateWinslet pic.twitter.com/ET2aGk9mmu
— Sofy.tv (@sofyupdates) June 25, 2020
The story is so wild that we’re surprised it has never really had much discourse… until now. Per Vanity Fair, the story goes, it was your typical day on set; long hours filming lengthy, arduous scenes at all sorts of hours of the day. On this particular evening on August 9, 1996, as the clock struck midnight, the crew cut for what, in the context of a late shoot, was considered lunch. What was on the menu? Seafood chowder, and one so delicious that it was reported some people ate three or four bowls’ worth. What nobody knew at the time, however, was that this tasty chowder was laced with the psychedelic drug, PCP (otherwise known as Angel’s Dust).
Soon enough, madness ensued.
“People are moaning and crying, wailing, collapsed on tables and gurneys,” Titanic director James Cameron told Vanity Fair in 2009. “You can’t make this stuff up.”
“Everyone seemed confused. Everyone was having trouble getting their work done,” added Marilyn McAvoy via VICE, a painter who worked on various props in the film. “En masse, we went through these hospital doors at 1 a.m. in the morning. They did not know what to do with us. It became pretty chaotic.”
Those who weren’t affected took it upon themselves to separate the intoxicated bunch, which included Cameron and actor Bill Paxton, and take them to the local hospital. Paxton, who was said to be rather enjoying the effects of his PCP experience, left the hospital in the midst of the storm.
“I said, ‘Jim [Cameron], I’m not gonna hang out here. This is bedlam,’” he told the Los Angeles Times in 2015. “‘I’m gonna … wander back down to the set and just drink a case of beer,’ which is what I did. That seemed to help me.”
Cameron, who himself fell victim to the PCP spiking but quickly vomited the toxins out of his system, at first suspected “red tide,” a naturally occurring toxin that can make shellfish dangerous to eat. In reality, perhaps a disgruntled crewman spiked the soup. Or maybe it was a caterer? Yet, twenty-five years later, there’s still no culprit; no one knows who would do such a thing or why.
But, per Vanity Fair, Cameron had his suspicions.
“We had fired a crew member the day before because they were creating trouble with the caterers. So we believe the poisoning was this idiot’s plan to get back at the caterers, whom of course we promptly fired the next day. So it worked,” he said.
Cameron once told The New Yorker that there was this real sense of “catastrophe around the whole production.” At the conclusion of filming, not only was the project US$100 million over budget and several months behind schedule – Cameron obsessed over every little detail of the film’s era, from using real caviar and authentic Edwardian carpeting – but there was no reassurance from the studio’s or any stakeholders involved that this would ultimately become one of the highest grossing films of all time. The PCP incident was just the icing on the cake of many a disaster to unfold.
And about that little old debate regarding Jack (DiCaprio) surviving if he had only just stayed afloat with Kate Winslet’s character, Rose, it looks like James Cameron has once and for all put that debate to bed, proving that Jack couldn’t have survived the Titanic sinking.
In an interview with Postmedia, Cameron said that he had commissioned “a scientific study to put this whole thing to rest and drive a stake through its heart once and for all”.
“We have since done a thorough forensic analysis with a hypothermia expert who reproduced the raft from the movie … We took two stunt people who were the same body mass of Kate and Leo and we put sensors all over them and inside them and we put them in ice water and we tested to see whether they could have survived through a variety of methods and the answer was, there was no way they both could have survived. Only one could survive.”
The results of the study will be shown on National Geographic when Titanic is re-released in February 2023.
So there you go, people!