The tragic true story of the sinking of The Titanic is one of the most well-known disasters ever to happen in the western world, a story of great human engineering being foiled by a lonely iceberg. Its legacy has no doubt been elevated by James Cameron’s 1997 film that encased the story within a sentimental romance, one of tragedy, heartache, and civilised elegance, far from the drug-fuelled antics that occurred behind the scenes of the film.
These antics were not intentional, however, causing over 80 crew members to become hospitalised with hallucinations during filming in Nova Scotia, Canada. The culprit for these illnesses, the psychedelic PCP.
Sprinkled over the cast and crew’s lobster chowder, the drug, also known as ‘Angel Dust’, took hold of the group after only fifteen minutes, directly affecting director James Cameron as well as actor Bill Paxman. “The crew was all milling about. Some people were laughing, some people were crying, some people were throwing up…it was like the beginning of an acid trip,” said crew member Marilyn McAvoy. Even 85 years after the initial marine disaster, Dr. Rob Roy found himself treating further victims of The Titanic, stating: “These people were stoned…they had no idea what was going on.”
Fascinatingly though, the individual behind the poisoning was never found, despite a number of conspiracy theories ranging from a disgruntled crew member on the set of the film to frustrated employees behind the film’s catering. CEO of UNAD Quality Foods Ltd, one of the caterers for the movie, even came out blaming the ‘Hollywood crowd’ for the incident, stating: “It was the Hollywood crowd bringing in the psychedelics… I don’t think it was purposefully done to hurt somebody. It was done like a party thing that got carried away.”
Whilst conspiracies spiral over the historical sinking of the ship itself, it is bizarre that the culprit of this cinematic incident was never found, especially considering the colossal production size of the film itself. Actor Lewis Abernathy explained the scene, adding: “There were people just rolling around, completely out of it. Some of them said they were seeing streaks and psychedelics.”
Though, with director James Cameron also falling victim to the hallucinatory drug, and his condition described by Abernathy as possessing “the Terminator eye. A pupil, no iris, beet red”, with the other looking like “he’d been sniffing glue since he was four”, this may work to explain some of the film’s more erratically constructed scenes.
Maybe when James Cameron wrote “I’m the king of the world” he might not have been in his right mind after all…