Cameron, Winslet, and DiCaprio gave a combined $30,000 to help her.
We all know the story of Titanic. It has been a disaster story that has captured our imaginations for years. But it occurred so long ago, that we don’t have any survivors to give us firsthand accounts.
But we did have Titanic survivor, Millvina Dean, who was the youngest person to survive the sinking of the famous ship back in 1912. Back in 2003, when Dean was 91-years-old, she was invited to a screening of James Cameron’s documentary, “Ghosts of the Abyss,” which featured the exploration of the famous shipwreck site.
Dean politely declined the invitation, explaining to the BBC, “I don’t mind talking but I don’t want to see that film.”
It wasn’t just Cameron’s film that she didn’t want to see – Dean refused to see any movie that featured the Titanic. Her only experience with media that featured the Titanic wreck was the 1958 film, “A night to Remember,” something that she found “too distressing” to handle. And we can understand why. She was a survivor of the most famous shipwreck in history.
Dean was only 2 months old when she boarded the ocean liner with her family. She was the youngest of the 700 survivors to make it off the ill-fated passenger ship.
While she was too young to personally remember the tragic events of that night, she grew up remembering the traumatic effects it had on her family. Dean, her mother, and her older brother managed to get off the sinking ship on a lifeboat. However, Dean’s father stayed behind and ended up being one of the thousands of casualties to perish in the wreck.
As a result of losing her father, Dean’s surviving family didn’t go on to Kansas City as they had originally planned. Instead, they returned to England where she lived out her entire life. However, in her later years, Dean did get involved in Titanic-related events and programs. She even had a 1997 visit to Kansas City sponsored by the Titanic Historical Society.
As much as Dean might have shared her firsthand Titanic experience, it hardly paid. Unlike movie stars and directors that worked on Titanic-related projects that ended up paying big, Dean struggled financially. By the year 2009, she was forced to auction off some personal artifacts – including the donated clothes her family received and wore after the Titanic’s sinking – in order to pay for her nursing home. However, she did have them returned to her by the winning bidder who chose to kindly give them back to her for free.
That is when in May 2009, a friend of Dean’s, Irish author Don Mullan, decided to lead a campaign to raise money for her. He created the “Millvina Fund,” and started selling copies of a picture he’d taken of Dean. But he didn’t stop there. He reached out to James Cameron, Kate Winslet, Leonardo DiCaprio, 20th Century Fox, and Celine Dion, and asked them to match his contribution.
Mullan shared with Independent.ie, “There were people out there who could, and I felt, morally should, help her. To fail Millvina Dean, the last tangible living link to the Titanic, would make a mockery of the world’s expressed concern for the tragedy.”
And it worked. Reuters reported that Cameron, Winslet, and DiCaprio gave a combined $30,000 to the fund. Dean was grateful, but slightly annoyed by the increased number of phone calls that she started getting.
Dean said to the Irish Times, “I was watching the 10 o’clock news last night, half-asleep, then I looked up and said, ‘Coo, that’s me!’ All I get now are phone calls all day from people asking me how I feel about Leonardo DiCaprio. I’m absolutely browned off with all the phoning!”
Unfortunately, not long afterward, Dean became sick with pneumonia. She was unable to recover from her illness and ended up passing away on May 31, 2009, at the age of 97. Her death also happened to occur 98 years to the day that the Titanic was first launched from Belfast, something that was quite coincidental given that she was the Titanic’s last living survivor.
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