Q·Q with Tom Power

James Cameron recalls the night Titanic's cast and crew were poisoned by PCP-spiked chowder

In a Q interview about the 25th anniversary of Titanic, the Canadian director shared some behind-the-scenes stories from the film ⁠— including a chaotic night on set when dozens of the film’s cast and crew were hospitalized after being drugged with PCP.

On the 25th anniversary of Titanic, the Canadian director shared some behind-the-scenes stories from the film

James Cameron at the world premiere of Avatar: The Way of Water.
Titanic celebrates its 25th anniversary this year. In an interview on Q with Tom Power, Canadian director James Cameron discussed the enduring legacy of the film. (Gareth Cattermole/Getty Images for Disney)

The full interview with James Cameron is available on our podcast, Q with Tom Power. Listen and subscribe wherever you get your podcasts.

It's a story that became one of Hollywood's most intriguing mysteries, got fact-checked by Snopes and entered "East Coast lore" (according to Q host Tom Power): on the final day of shooting for Titanic in Dartmouth, N.S., dozens of the film's cast and crew were drugged with PCP-spiked chowder.

"This is a 100 per cent true story," director James Cameron told Power in a new interview about the 25th anniversary of Titanic. "You haven't lived until you've been high on PCP, which by the way, I do not recommend to anyone."

PCP (also known as phencyclidine or angel dust) is a mind-altering drug that can lead to hallucinations and psychosis. It can also work as a stimulant, depressant and anesthetic.

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Actor Bill Paxton was among those who ate the chowder, but the film's stars, Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet, were spared as they weren't on set at the time. At first, Cameron thought the affected cast and crew had eaten contaminated shellfish, which can be life-threatening, so they were all rushed to a small local hospital.

"There was an emergency room with no one in it and, like, a nurse, and 85 crew members walk in," recalled the director. "We don't know what's going on. And basically, somebody had taken a pound of PCP and dumped it into the chowder."

So who spiked the chowder?

It remains a mystery as to who would want to poison the cast and crew of Titanic, or what their motivation was, but Cameron has his own theory.

"We have a pretty strong suspicion who it was, although it was never proven," he said.

"We believe the story is that it was somebody who had a beef with the caterers because the first thing we did was fire the caterers.… And, you know, sure enough, we had some leads on that. Of course, the operating theory was that I was such a psycho maniac that [the perpetrator was] trying to get back at me, but I reject that theory out of hand for obvious reasons."

Written by Vivian Rashotte. Interview produced by Kaitlyn Swan.


Vivian Rashotte is a digital producer, writer and photographer for Q with Tom Power. She's also a visual artist. You can reach her at vivian.rashotte@cbc.ca.