Mystery ailment strikes Oscar banquet. More than 100 guests fall violently ill after last weekend's Academy dinner honoring technical award winners
Charlize Theron
Credit: Charlize Theron: Sebastian Artz/Getty Images

”Gosford Park” isn’t the only Oscar-associated dinner-party mystery this year. There’s also a real-life puzzle about the ailment that struck more than 100 dinner guests as last weekend’s banquet honoring 2002’s technical and scientific achievement Academy Award winners.

Some 500 people attended the dinner on March 2 at the Regent Beverly Wilshire Hotel in Beverly Hills, at which Charlize Theron handed out about two dozen Oscars to top techies. Within days, as many as 160 of the guests were complaining of such symptoms as vomiting, diarrhea, nausea, and fever.

Equally baffling was the disease’s random pattern. ”It seems like it was about half the people at each table,” Academy spokesman John Pavlik told the Associated Press. ”For instance, I didn’t get sick, but my wife did, and we both ate the same things.” Also afflicted was Oscar telecast producer Laura Ziskin. Theron was not among the sufferers, Pavlik told

While the illness seemed to clear up in one or two days, investigators from Los Angeles County’s Department of Health Services still didn’t know a week later what had made everyone sick. They had identified the bug only as ”Virus #63 2002.” In a statement issued March 7, the Department said, ”We are actively investigating the possible causes of illness at a function at the hotel. Our investigation includes interviewing guests and obtaining diagnostic information, evaluating banquet and kitchen procedures and interviewing hotel staff.”

Items on the menu that night included arugula salad, lobster bisque, roast beef, halibut, mashed potatoes, tomatoes, and asparagus tips, while the dessert menu featured berry sorbet, chocolate cake, lemon tart and assorted fruit.

”We don’t have any reason to believe this is an ongoing problem at the hotel,” the Department said. The hotel’s public relations director, Deborah Damask, went even further, telling that the inspectors had found no evidence that it was linked to any food item. ”They’ve determined it’s not related to our food handling procedures. It sounds like the same symptoms as this stomach virus going around the city.” Though she said on March 8 that the hotel was still waiting for the investigators’ final report, she added, ”It looks like food poisoning or salmonella has been ruled out.”

In any case, for those afflicted, the Oscar virus seems to have run its course. The rest of us, however, only have to worry about getting violently ill during the March 24 Academy Awards telecast — unless this year’s show cuts the dance numbers.