The Hollywood star"s fatality was claimed accidental decades ago—but now, investigators aren"t so sure.
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A new documentary, Natalie Wood: What remains Behind, premiers this evening on HBO. Developed by Wood"s daughter Natasha Gregson Wagner, the film takes a look at the life and also career that the Hollywood star, who died tragically at age 43, once Gregson Wagner was just 11.
We initially published the following investigation the Wood"s fatality in 2018.
On a cool November day 37 year ago, four adults went for a cruise off the southwest coastline of Los Angeles plank Splendour, a 55-foot yacht. 3 of those adults would certainly come safely ago to shore. The 4th would never ever see house again. She’d never work again or view her children reach adulthood. She was found floating in the water in a flannel nightgown, socks, and a under jacket the following morning.
In this story, the unlucky adult was likewise the most well known adult, movie star Natalie Wood, who was 43 at the time. She had actually been a beloved son actress, first capturing national attention in the 1947 Christmas standard Miracle top top 34th Street—she play the skeptical, precocious Susan Walker—and then as a beautiful ingenue in such films as the 1961 music West side Story, in i m sorry she played a graceful Maria. By the period of 25, she had actually been nominated for three Academy Awards for best Actress, for she leading functions in Rebel there is no a Cause, Splendor in the Grass, and Love through a suitable Stranger.
But perhaps since of her tragic end, when you hear the surname “Natalie Wood” today, girlfriend don’t think first of her storied career. To wit: There space 38 million Google outcomes for the find term “Natalie lumber death.” if the circumstances neighboring her death remain murky and also controversial, we have the right to agree that in dying so young, and so mysteriously, Wood’s talent was denied a proper legacy.
In 1981, Natalie’s fatality was classified together an accident and “probable drown in ocean.” significant Los Angeles coroner thomas Noguchi quote in his report “numerous bruises to arms and legs” that were “superficial and probably sustained at the time of drowning” and wrote, “No other trauma noted and foul play is no suspected at this time.”
The investigator’s report attached come Noguchi’s document said that Wood and also a tiny party that included her husband, Robert Wagner, had left the Splendour because that a restaurant dinner top top Catalina Island. At about 10 p.m., the “intoxicated” team returned come the yacht, making use of its dinghy, Valiant. Robert Wagner told the investigators that Natalie retired for the night in the couple’s cabin at about 10:45, but after talking for a while longer with their guest, Natalie’s co-star at the time Christopher Walken, Wagner went to sign up with her in the cabin, just to discover her missing.
Wagner and the others soon discovered the dinghy was additionally missing, and also they “immediately” radioed because that help. Port Patrol, personal searchers, and also eventually the shore Guard every combed the water and island coastline, and a Sheriff’s room helicopter eventually spotted Natalie’s floating body. She was pronounced dead at 7:44 a.m. ~ above November 29th.
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Wood’s funeral, hosted on December 3rd, proved a devastated, weeping Wagner, surrounded by friends, family, and also the cream of the entertainment world: Laurence Olivier, frank Sinatra, Gregory Peck, and also Rock Hudson.
Instead of finality, Wood’s death only seemed to provoke questions, and also three years later, in 2011, the Los Angeles county Sheriff’s department reopened the investigation. And also at a push conference in February the 2018, Captain Christopher Bergner the the homicide department claimed “new witnesses” and those with appropriate information had been identified and also a different timeline had emerged of Natalie Wood’s last hrs on the boat and also when help was requested.
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At the February press conference, man Corina, a sublievenant in the Los Angeles Sheriff"s department Homicide Bureau, stated that Robert Wagner, 88, to be “a person of interest” in she death and they would like to speak through him again and hear his version of events. The brand-new witnesses, the said, were people in watercrafts moored close to the Wagner yacht that heard a couple loudly arguing as well as a mrs calling because that help.
“The instance is quiet open,” claims Suzanne Finstad, writer of Natasha: The biography of Natalie Wood. (Natasha was the name her Russian family referred to as her.) when Finstad’s publication was released in 2009, it consisted of startling claims around arguments between Wood and Wagner shortly prior to she was declared absent from their yacht. The resource was the fourth person ~ above the boat, its captain, Dennis Davern, who is currently 70. In the February push conference, Corina stated the witness statements from those that heard a couple fighting matched up with what Davern has said in recent police interviews.
Corina included that his department have additionally talked come witnesses that saw the group on Catalina Island that weekend and also people that knew Wagner and Wood. Several of the details that have emerged around the last hrs of the yacht space ugly, through whispers of drunkenness, rage, and accused infidelity.
The life that Natalie hardwood is like a Russian matryonshka doll, a set of wooden dolls nesting in one another. As soon as you choose up one doll, friend find one more inside, over and over. Even those who thought themselves familiar with the life story of the sparkling hardwood would it is in taken aback by the reality of her childhood.
Born Natalia Nikolaevna Zakharenko, wood was the daughter that Russian immigrants. (Studio executives changed Natalia’s name to Natalie Wood when she an initial started acting together a child.) her father, Nikolai Zakharenko, to be a laborer given to violent alcoholic rages, and also her mother, Maria, to be a fantasist and also abusive taskmaster that drove she tiny daughter to become the household breadwinner, follow to Finstad’s biography and other books, documentaries, and articles about Wood.
Maria’s family fled to China after ~ the Russian Revolution, and also when she to be a child, she said she had her fortune review by a gypsy in Harbin. The fortune novelist told her that her 2nd child “would be a good beauty, well-known throughout the world.” but she likewise said the Maria need to “beware of dark water.” Maria passed on that fear to her second daughter, if pushing her to fulfill that very first prophecy.
There space harrowing stories of Maria’s career together a phase mother. She was figured out that she daughter, after ~ receiving little parts, would certainly be actors in the 1946 movie Tomorrow Is Forever alongside Orson Welles. The character was that of one emotionally delicate girl orphaned by the Nazis. To win the part, lumber would have actually to be able to cry on cue. Her mommy wasn’t sure she could do it. In ~ the studio, clutching she seven-year-old daughter prior to her screen test, Maria whispered to her to think the the fatality of the family members dog.
But she go much more than that, follow to Finstad’s book. “Her mom pulled her to the side, wherein no one else could see, ‘took a live butterfly out of a jar and tore the wings turn off it.’ Tenderhearted Natasha got in hysterics as her mother referred to as out, ‘She’s ready!’ grabbing her by the hand and also pushing she in front of the camera.”
Wood to be so moving in the film that she won a long-term studio contract. She to be famously hard-working, learning not simply her lines but everyone else’s, and earning the nickname “One take it Natalie.” She carry out in a dizzying variety of movies, consisting of The Ghost and Mrs. Muir, and, as she got to her teen years, wore braids and also frilly dresses so she might play younger roles.
But, unsurprisingly, hardwood rebelled from her mother’s chop control and also her ultra-wholesome photo by the time she was 16. She wanted to be a “real” actress, one artist, and also with some an obstacle won a part in Rebel without a Cause, co-starring James Dean and Sal Mineo.
This duration also introduced her sexual rebelliousness. Wood, 16, had actually an affair v the 44-year-old director, Nicholas Ray, and likewise slept through her co-star Dennis Hopper, follow to Finstad’s book. In the next couple of years she would day entertainers like Elvis Presley and heartthrob Tab Hunter. In Hunter’s instance she was play the part of beard, because the gay actor to be then in the closet.
Wagner was different. She had long had a to like on the handsome actor, and also they walk on their first date on her 18th birthday. Castle married one year later, in 1957, ending up being Hollywood’s gold couple. Yet the marital relationship did no last. Following their divorce in 1962, timber dated Warren Beatty before marrying british producer Richard Gregson in 1969. The was through Gregson the she had actually her first daughter, Natasha.
To the joy of she fans, after she divorce Gregson in 1972, wood got earlier in touch through Wagner. Castle remarried that exact same year, one decade after your divorce. This time, the marital relationship flourished, and they had actually a daughter, Courtney. Wagner’s career took off when he found a fight TV collection in Hart come Hart. Throughout that time, hardwood made fewer films. Part say she want to devote more time to her family, however she was additionally finding it difficult to get an excellent parts after ~ 40.
Wood’s last movie was Brainstorm, in i m sorry she played a scientist married to a fellow scientist portrayed by Christopher Walken. The new York-based actor had actually just won an Academy Award because that The Deer Hunter. Hardwood told friend she was worried the she looked older 보다 Walken onscreen (she was 5 years his senior), however they struck increase a friendship, and also rumors swirled around their connection.
The film’s very first assistant director, David McGiffert told Wood’s biographer, “It wasn’t like they were lovey-dovey on the collection or anything choose that, but they just had a current about them, and also an electricity.”
"It wasn’t like they were lovey-dovey on the set or anything choose that, but they just had a current around them, and an electricity."
For the Thanksgiving weekend the 1981, Wood and also Wagner invited Walken to join them together they sailed around Catalina Island, a rocky getaway around 22 miles turn off the shores of Los Angeles. Wagner loved his yacht Splendour and the family spent as lot time top top it as they could; in a 1979 TV interview, lumber talked about how it allowed the family to escape the public eye. “It’s straightforward with the boat,” she stated with a smile.
Davern, a family members friend as well as Navy vet, was the captain that fateful weekend. He has actually said in multiple interviews—and in a publication that he co-wrote through Marti Rulli, titled Goodbye Natalie, good-bye Splendour—that after ~ Natalie Wood’s body was found, Wagner him and also Walken to stick come the original story. That was the timeline that confirmed up in the 1981 coroner’s report: Natalie checked out bed first; as soon as Wagner after ~ chatting through Walken went to sign up with her, he witnessed she was absent and so to be the dinghy.
However, Davern currently says, the wasn’t the totality truth.
“The discussion started the day before,” Davern said Nancy grace in a televised interview years later. “The anxiety was going through the whole weekend. Robert Wagner was jealousy of Christopher Walken.”
According to Davern, Wood and Walken spent hours at a bar ~ above Catalina Island, laughing and seemingly flirting. When her husband showed up, he to be fuming. The 4 proceeded to have actually dinner in ~ Doug’s harbor Reef Restaurant, drinking champagne, 2 bottles that wine, and cocktails. In ~ one point, lumber or walken threw a glass in ~ the wall, employee of the restaurant called Finstad.
The restaurant manager saw exactly how drunk the members the the group were becoming, and also worried they would not have the ability to reach their yacht safely when they staggered out just after 10 p.m. Using their blow up dinghy, Valiant, the team did reach Splendour that night, however Wood to be dead hours prior to sunrise.
The story the what taken place when the four of them went back to the yacht has adjusted several times. Follow to Finstad’s book, Walken at an early stage told the investigators the he and Wagner obtained into a “small beef” about a parental being away from young youngsters for prolonged time shoot a movie, as Natalie to be doing. Apologies to be made, and the spat died down.
However, in his most recent version, Davern says they resumed drink wine and also that a very heated discussion exploded, during which Wagner damaged a bottle of alcohol on a table and shouted at Walken, “Are you trying come f—-k mine wife?”
Davern said Walken left to go to his own room “and that was the critical I observed of him.” Wood additionally left for she state room, through Wagner following, and also Davern heard the taking place loud quarrel. While Davern did not watch them in ~ this point, he stated he heard the argument proceed on the deck the the boat, prior to “everything went silent.” after ~ a time, he chose to examine on the situation, and also found Wagner alone top top deck, saying, “Natalie is missing.” that asked Davern to start trying to find her.
When his find was unsuccessful, Davern claimed he rejoined Wagner, that then said him, “The dinghy is absent too.” through Natalie hardwood being “deathly fear of water,” Davern says he wondered about she would have taken the end the small boat herself. He has said in lot of interviews the Wagner, saying he didn’t desire to attract bad publicity, refuse to revolve on the boat’s overwhelming lights and also delayed calling because that help.
Sheriff’s investigators have referred come a key witness statement native Marilyn Wayne, who occurred to be in a boat moored 80 feet away at the time. Wayne claimed that about 11 p.m., she heard a woman calling out, saying, “Somebody please aid me, I’m drowning.” The cries walk on until almost 11:30 pm. Once Wayne’s boyfriend tried to contact the harbormaster, nobody answered. Also, there could have to be a party on one more boat moored turn off the island, therefore they wonder if that was all a joke.
Most troubling, it seems there to be a vital gap before anyone learned lumber was missing. Far from notifying authorities “immediately,” according to Finstad’s reporting in her book and Davern in his plenty of television and print interviews, Wagner did no make the first call come shore till 1:30 a.m.
Lana Wood, Natalie’s younger sister, has often called for Wagner come say much more about what taken place that night. “She would certainly never have actually left the boat like that, undressed, in just a nightgown,” stated Wood in one TV interview.
In 2013, Wagner released a statement v his attorney, Blair Berk, as reported by E! News: "Mr. Wagner has completely cooperated over the last 30 year in the examination of the inadvertently drowning that his wife in 1981. Mr. Wagner has been interviewed on many occasions through the Los Angeles sheriff’s department and also answered every solitary question inquiry of the by detectives throughout those interviews.”
The sheriff’s department claimed in February that the team is still functioning to see if much more witnesses deserve to still remember the night and also may aid fill in the timeline and also provide more clues about when specifically Wood got in the water. “We’re doing our critical shot here to check out if anyone else will certainly come forward,” stated Corina in ~ the push conference.
Finstad claimed that something could still development the investigation: “In the previous several months I’ve sent the lead detective two brand-new incriminating eyewitnesses to Natalie’s injuries. After my publication was released I discovered a key witness Davern dubbed in a panic hours after Natalie drowned come confide how she went overboard,” the biographer called Town & Country.
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Wagner has actually never been charged with any crime in connection to the fatality of his wife, meaning that if he made decision to give more statements to the police, it would certainly be completely voluntary. Follow to the connected Press, “Investigators do at the very least 10 attempts come interview Wagner again ~ reopening the investigation in 2011, including tracking him under in Colorado. But either Wagner or his lawyer refused.”
“We would certainly love to speak to Robert Wagner,” said Corina. “He’s refused to speak to us….We deserve to never pressure him to speak to us. He has rights and he have the right to not speak to us if the doesn’t want to.”
The Sheriff’s Department’s public acknowledgement that Wagner to be a human of interest only deepens the tragedy because that Finstad. “The L.A. Coroner, remarkably, officially changed her reason of death 30 years later—which way that Wood’s suspicious and gruesome fatality was never ever investigated and she was wrongly and publicly blamed and also shamed together the drunken cause of her very own death,” says Finstad.
Wagner, called “R.J.” by those who understand him, showed up to have been wrong by the loss of his wife. He composed in his memoir, “There are only two possibilities—either she to be trying to obtain away indigenous the argument or she was trying come tie the dinghy. Yet the bottom line is the nobody knows specifically what happened.”
Natalie and R.J.’s daughter, Courtney, was seven years old once she lost her mother. Courtney has actually continually expressed she love and also support for her father, praising his initiatives to protect his children, and also told one interviewer, “There are certain people in our resides that continue to drudge up every this speculation and stories yearly for no various other reason 보다 to indulge themselves.”
Like Wagner, Walken has actually said very little in public around Wood’s death. In among his couple of statements, he said that civilization couldn’t manage the strangeness, the randomness, of Wood’s drowning.
“Anybody there saw the logistics—of the boat, the night, where we were, the it was raining—and would know specifically what happened,” Walken claimed in a Playboy interview in 1997, his fullest public an answer to the tragedy. “You hear about things happening to people—they slip in the bathtub, autumn down the stairs, action off the curb in London because they think the the cars come the various other way—and castle die. You feel you desire to dice making an effort at something; girlfriend don’t want to dice in some unnecessary way.”
For those who knew Wood, that is the ugliness that her fatality that is so deeply painful, for she was a kind, warm woman that took pride in looking she best. And also up to that last fateful weekend, she appeared to have actually been deep in love through her husband.