The Titanic was a lesson to all in public safety, with a record number of people dying in the tragic ship sinking. Had there been more lifeboats many more people could have escaped death. This gruesome event has been a source of fascination ever since that fateful night in 1912, with the 1997 film, Titanic, as one of the highest-grossing films of the 1990s. The stars enjoyed continued successes owing to their roles in the movie, with 11 Academy Awards given to the film. As it turns out the people who made the film a smash hit also had roles in helping the last Titanic survivor in her final years.

Titanic during sea trials
The Titanic on an initial seat trial. Via: US National Archives

Millvina Dean was only 2 months of age when her parents boarded the doomed ship. While her mother, Georgette, was able to make it to a lifeboat with Millvina and her brother, her father, Bertram, went down with the ship.

Even though she wasn’t old enough to remember the tragedy firsthand, the death of her father forever altered the course of her life. The family had been set to move to Kansas, but without a breadwinner the family had to immediately return to England.

Titanic survivors in lifeboat 1912
Survivors ina lifeboat as they approach the rescuing ship, Carpathia. Via: US National Archives

Throughout the course of her long life Millvina spoke with the media and appeared at Titanic events, such as the British Titanic Society Convention and granting interviews to the BBC. Following the 1985 discovery of the Titanic shipwreck, Dean suddenly found herself getting lots of media requests at the age of 73. About all the attention she later said, “Who expects to become famous at that age?”.

However, she found it incredibly difficult to watch any documentaries or movies about the disaster and so when James Cameron’s Titanic film came out in 1997, for which she was sent a personal invite to the premiere, she flatly refused.

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However, the film stars ended up helping her in her final year. Despite being consulted for film, television, and newspapers for her knowledge of the disaster, Millvina was not a wealthy woman. In her final years her healthcare and assisted living costs were mounting and she was forced to sell at auction the clothes her family had been wearing when they were rescued just to make ends meet.

The winning bidder returned the clothes to her in a gesture of goodwill, but there were still unmet costs afterwards.

Millvina Dean in 1999
Millvina in 1999 at a British Titanic Society Convention. Via: Stephen Daniels/Wiki Commons

Irish journalist, Don Mullan, was a friend of Dean’s and in what was to be her final month of life he set out to help her with her medical bills. In early May of 2009 he started selling photos of her for €500 and asked if the stars of the film would match the money made from the photos. Mullan called the donations the “Millvina Fund”.

Kate Winslet and Leonardo DiCaprio, the lead actors of the film who played star-crossed lovers bound by social classes for different fates, contributed a combined $20,000. The film’s director, James Cameron gave $10,000. And, the woman behind the film’s signature song (“My Heart Will Go On”), Celine Dion, also contributed another $10,000.

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Dion was a big fan of the film and wore a version of the Heart of the Ocean sapphire and diamond necklace to the 1998 Oscars, where the song won an Academy Award for Best Original Song for the film’s closing song.

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Millvina contracted pneumonia and died on May 31, 2009 at the age of 97, after having become thoroughly annoyed with all the media attention she received from the donations from the film’s creators. About the frenzy of phone calls she said, “I’m absolutely browned off with all the phoning!”