When the 'Titanic' Crew Ate PCP, Or the Craziest On-Set Story You've Never Heard
Remember when the 'Titanic' crew accidentally got high on PCP?
A couple years ago, I wrote about the wildest film production story known to man (and animal). Over the 11 years during which Roar was filmed, director/producer Noel Marshall (The Exorcist), his wife, actress Tippi Hedren, and their children, including Melanie Griffith, lived, ate, and slept in the company of 150 lions, tigers, cheetahs, and jaguars. Ultimately, 70 members of the cast and crew were injured: cinematographer Jan de Bont was scalped, requiring 220 stitches; Griffith was mauled by a lion, requiring facial reconstructive surgery; an A.D. narrowly escaped death when a lion missed his jugular by an inch; Hedren endured a fractured leg and multiple scalp wounds; and Marshall himself was wounded so many times that he was hospitalized with gangrene.
If the behind-the-scenes story of Roar is among the craziest in cinema history, then an incident that occurred on the set of Titanic is among the weirdest. In a recent VICE interview, Marilyn McAvoy, a set painter on the film's 1996 production, told the story of when the cast and crew of the blockbuster were poisoned with PCP—in clam chowder, no less.
After filming in Nova Scotia for weeks, the crew was halfway through their last 12-hour day shooting in Canada. To commemorate, craft services arranged for a decadent "lunch" at midnight. While Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet were not at the table—neither had scenes on the Canadian set—nearly everyone else was, including Bill Paxton and director James Cameron.
"I think maybe the people who had more experience with drugs were having flashbacks and bad trips."
"The chowder was unbelievable," McAvoy told VICE. "People were going back for second bowls. And I think that was part of the problem: people ate a lot more than usual because it was so delicious."
According to McAvoy, nobody noticed anything strange until nearly a half-hour later, when work had already resumed on set. "Everyone seemed confused," remembers McAvoy. "Everyone was having trouble getting their work done." Everyone gathered outside to assess the situation. Once it was determined that someone had spiked the chowder, Cameron ran upstairs and forced himself to throw up.
At 1 AM, the cast and crew were rushed to the hospital, where everyone seemed to be experiencing the drug differently. "They did not know what to do with us," says McAvoy. "It became pretty chaotic. Some people were having a really hard time. I think maybe the people who had more experience with drugs were having flashbacks and bad trips." McAvoy herself experienced PCP as "a combination of being high on marijuana and being drunk."
McAvoy recounts what happened next:
We were there all night. Eventually we all got put in these cubicles with the curtains around us, but no one wanted to stay in their cubicles. Everyone was out in the aisles and jumping into other people's cubicles. People had a lot of energy. Some were in wheelchairs, flying down the hallways. I mean, everyone was high! So they gave us this drink that had charcoal in it, to remove the toxins. By sunup, we had started to come down. People were playing hacky sack. Everyone just wanted to get home.
So, who spiked the chowder? To this day, no one knows. A cursory investigation revealed rumors of a disgruntled chef who had been recently let go, but nothing was ever proven.
Suddenly, Rose's famous words—"I'm flying, Jack!"—take on a whole new meaning.