The ‘Titanic’ crew remembers the night they were drugged with PCP

It’s been 25 years since Titanic, and those who worked on the film still remember the night they were drugged on set.

On August 9, 1996, on the set of Titanic in Halifax, Nova Scotia, Craft Services provided the cast and crew with clam chowder – which, it turned out, was laced with PCP.

The food was so good that some people even ate three to four bowls without knowing what was coming next.

“We had a room for the handles and electricians, and one of the guys started talking really hyper,” crew member Jake Clarke told Vulture. “He’s a tall guy, about six feet tall,” and he’s like, “You guys feeling okay? Because I don’t. I feel like I’m onto something and believe me I would know. He was just chattering away.”

“And just as he was saying that, we saw James Cameron running through the door with this extra after him. He said, “There’s something in me! Out with it!’” Clarke recalled.

Kate Winslet, Leonardo DiCaprio, Director James Cameron
Kate Winslet, Leonardo DiCaprio and director James Cameron on the set of Titanic.
©20thCentFox/Courtesy of Everett C

Cameron initially thought they had been struck by the “red tide” – a naturally occurring toxin that can make eating shellfish dangerous.

The 68-year-old director previously told Vanity Fair that after eating, he had to walk off set to throw up.

“I’m standing in front of the monitors, next to the camera, and the room is empty. It was like the Twilight Zone,” Cameron recalled speaking to VF reporter Rebecca Keegan in 2009.

James Cameron said he had to step off set to throw up after eating the clam chowder.
Alamy Stock Photo

An assistant director on set noticed the chaos and divided everyone on set into two groups: “bad crew” and “good crew” – meaning who seemed to be high on PCP and who wasn’t – with the “bad crew” group growing significantly larger over time.

The clam chowder incident happened on the film’s set in Haifax – where Cameron shot framing device scenes with Bill Paxton, who played the researcher who discovers Jack’s nude drawing of Rose in a safe recovered from the shipwreck. Co-stars Kate Winslet and Leonardo DiCaprio were unaffected, but Paxton did eat the PCP soup.

“Bill Paxton was a real sweetheart. He was sitting next to me in the hospital hallway, kind of enjoying the buzz. Meanwhile, grips drove down the hall doing wheelies in wheelchairs,” said set decorator Claude Roussel.

Kate Winslet, Leonardo DiCaprio
Kate Winslet and Leonardo DiCaprio were unaffected by the PCP.
20th Century Fox Licensing/Merch

“Some people laughed, some cried, some threw up,” Paxton told Entertainment Weekly in 1996. Cameron felt the same way.”

Clarke didn’t eat the chowder himself thanks to his shellfish allergy, but stayed up on set until 4am – and was awake to see Cameron and Paxton as the PCP fiasco slowed.

“Her eyes were red like incredible. Jim had a bottle of Scotch and Bill Paxton had a bag of joints because he was a real stoner,” he recalled. “I kind of laugh about it because I didn’t eat the chowder, and then I’m sitting in the trailer smoking a joint.”

The drugged crew members, along with Cameron and Paxton, were taken to Dartmouth General Hospital.

Titanic, Leonardo DiCaprio, Kate Winslet
The clam chowder incident happened on the film’s set in Halifax.
(c) 20th Century Fox Film Corp

A criminal investigation was turned over to the Halifax Regional Police and escalated while some of the cast and crew were filming in Mexico.

While most of the Nova Scotia crew didn’t travel to Mexico, at least one handyman did — and was rumored to have been “taken at gunpoint by Mexican police because someone else in the crew said, ‘Oh, I think , it was he who fingered the wrong person,” Clarke recalled.

“That’s the word I got back,” he clarified.

Authorities were never able to determine who spiked the clam chowder with PCP, but at least the incident left the Titanic team with a whole story to enjoy, even a quarter century later.

“One of the Art Department guys made t-shirts and recreated this soup on the corner of the t-shirt,” Clarke said. “He gave this out to a few people in the area. It said, ‘Good crew, bad crew.’” The ‘Titanic’ crew remembers the night they were drugged with PCP

Emma Bowman

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