‘Titanic’ Crew Recall the Night the Set Got Drugged With PCP From Spiked Chowder: ‘Grips Are Doing Wheelies in Wheelchairs’

Of all the crazy stories from the making of James Cameron’s “Titanic,” none come close to that of the crew being drugged with PCP. All hell broke loose Aug. 9, 1996 on the film’s set in Halifax, Nova Scotia when craft services provided clam chowder that happened to be spiked with the drug. Halifax was where Cameron filmed the “Titanic” framing device scenes, featuring Bill Paxton as the leader of an expedition that discovers Rose’s necklace. To commemorate the film’s 25th anniversary, Vulture spoke to a couple crew members about the night the crew got drugged.

“We had a room for the grips and electricians, and one of the guys started talking really hyper,” crew member Jake Clarke said. “He’s a big guy, like six-four, and he says, ‘Do you guys feel okay? Because I don’t. I feel like I’m on something, and believe me, I would know.’ He was just chattering on like that. And just as he was saying this, we saw James Cameron run by the door and this extra running behind him. He said, ‘There’s something in me! Get it out!’”

Authorities never uncovered who spiked the pot of clam chowder with PCP. Because the incident happened on the movie’s Halifax set, lead actors Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslet were not affected. Paxton, however, did eat the soup.

“Bill Paxton was a real sweetie,” set decorator Claude Roussel told Vulture. “He was sitting next to me in the hallway of the hospital, and he was kind of enjoying the buzz. Meanwhile, grips were going down the hallway doing wheelies in wheelchairs.” 

Many crew members were sent to Dartmouth General Hospital. Cameron recalled the incident in a 2009 interview with Vanity Fair, saying, “People are moaning and crying, wailing, collapsed on tables and gurneys. The DP, Caleb Deschanel, is leading a number of crew down the hall in a highly vocal conga line. You can’t make this stuff up.”

Clarke did not eat the chowder but did end up staying on the film’s set until 4 a.m. that night. He recalled seeing Cameron and Paxton later on as the hysteria was winding down.

“Their eyes were beet-red, like unbelievably,” Clarke said. “Jim had a bottle of Scotch, and Bill Paxton had a bag of joints because he was a real stoner. I’m kind of laughing about it because I didn’t eat the chowder, and then I’m there in the trailer smoking a joint.”

“It was just a strange experience,” Roussel added.

Head over to Vulture’s website to read more about the night the “Titanic” crew was drugged.

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