Why Leonardo DiCaprio Gave Money to an Actual ‘Titanic’ Survivor

Leonardo DiCaprio didn’t just star in the most famous of the many movies about the Titanic. In addition, he had an unusual connection to one of the survivors of the Titanic disaster. Here’s a look at the life of Titanic survivor Millvina Dean her connection to DiCaprio, James Cameron, and Kate Winslet, — and why they gave her money.

Leonardo DiCaprio in a suit
Leonardo DiCaprio | Vince Bucci/Getty Images

How ‘Titanic’ survivor Millvina Dean became famous over 70 years after the ‘Titanic’ sank

Firstly, a little background. The New York Times reports Dean was a 9-week old infant when she was on the Titanic. She became the youngest of the 705 people who survived the sinking of the ship. Her mother, Georgetta, and her two-year-old brother survived as well, however, her father, Bertram, drowned. Dean blamed the death of her father on the fact that he traveled in third class. After all, third-class passengers were more likely to die.

“It couldn’t happen nowadays, and it’s so wrong, so unjust,” she said. In addition, she quoted a Rudyard Milping poem to underscore how class differences impacted the Titanic passengers: “What do they say? ‘Judy O’Grady and the colonel’s lady are sisters under the skin.’ That’s the way it should have been that night, but it wasn’t.”

A trailer for Titanic

The sinking of the Titanic was a huge news story in 1912. Afterward, there was a new wave of interest in it in the 1950s because of a Barbara Stanwyck movie about the sinking — simply called Titanic — and a British film on the same subject called A Night to Remember. However, The Guardian reports Dean wouldn’t become famous until decades later, when one of the most famous events in the history of shipwrecks happened.

“Until the wreckage of the Titanic was found in 1985, nobody was interested in me,” Dean said. “Who expects to become famous at that age?” Dean would make history not just by surviving the sinking of the Titanic, but by becoming the last living survivor of the wreck. She died in 2009 at the age of 97.

How Leonardo DiCaprio, James Cameron, and Kate Winslet came into Millvina Dean’s life

So why did DiCaprio give her so much money? According to the Irish Examiner, Dean needed funds to cover medical costs in her old age. Her friend, Don Mullan, set up a fund for her simply called The Millvina Fund.

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DiCaprio, James Cameron, and Kate Winslet each contributed to a $30,000 fund. “I laid down the challenge to the Titanic actors and directors to support the Millvina Fund and I was delighted with the generosity they have shown in meeting that challenge,” Mullan said. According to The Independent, the donations were “considerable,” however, the publication did not report a specific dollar amount. DiCaprio helped to bring the history of the Titanic to life for a new generation — and had a significant connection to someone who lived through that history.