The Hollywood star"s death was asserted accidental years ago—but now, investigators aren"t therefore sure.
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A brand-new documentary, Natalie Wood: What continues to be Behind, premiers tonight on HBO. Created by Wood"s daughter Natasha Gregson Wagner, the film takes a look at the life and career the the Hollywood star, who passed away tragically at age 43, when Gregson Wagner was simply 11.
We initially published the adhering to investigation the Wood"s death in 2018.
On a cool November work 37 year ago, four adults went because that a cruise turn off the southwest shore of Los Angeles board Splendour, a 55-foot yacht. 3 of those adults would certainly come safely back to shore. The 4th would never ever see home again. She’d never work again or view her youngsters reach adulthood. She was discovered floating in the water in a flannel nightgown, socks, and also a down jacket the next morning.
In this story, the ominous adult was likewise the most renowned adult, movie star Natalie Wood, who was 43 at the time. She had actually been a beloved son actress, very first capturing nationwide attention in the 1947 Christmas standard Miracle ~ above 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 been nominated for three Academy Awards for ideal Actress, for she leading functions in Rebel there is no a Cause, Splendor in the Grass, and also Love with a proper Stranger.
But perhaps because of her tragic end, when you hear the name “Natalie Wood” today, friend don’t think first of her storied career. To wit: There are 38 million Google results for the find term “Natalie hardwood death.” if the circumstances surrounding her death remain murky and also controversial, we deserve to agree that in dying so young, and so mysteriously, Wood’s talent to be denied a appropriate legacy.
In 1981, Natalie’s fatality was classified together an accident and also “probable drowning in ocean.” significant Los Angeles coroner cutting board Noguchi quote in his report “numerous bruises to arms and legs” the were “superficial and also probably continual at the time of drowning” and wrote, “No other trauma detailed and foul play is no suspected in ~ this time.”
The investigator’s report attached come Noguchi’s record said that Wood and a tiny party that consisted of her husband, Robert Wagner, had actually left the Splendour for a restaurant dinner ~ above Catalina Island. At around 10 p.m., the “intoxicated” group returned come the yacht, using its dinghy, Valiant. Robert Wagner called the investigators the Natalie retired because that 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 uncover her missing.
Wagner and the others soon uncovered the dinghy was additionally missing, and also they “immediately” radioed because that help. Harbor Patrol, private searchers, and eventually the shore Guard all combed the water and also island coastline, and a Sheriff’s room helicopter at some point 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 the cream of the to chat world: Laurence Olivier, candid Sinatra, Gregory Peck, and also Rock Hudson.
Instead that finality, Wood’s death only seemed to provoke questions, and also three decades later, in 2011, the Los Angeles ar Sheriff’s room reopened the investigation. And also at a press conference in February that 2018, Captain Christopher Bergner the the homicide department stated “new witnesses” and also those with appropriate information had been identified and a different timeline had emerged of Natalie Wood’s last hours on the boat and also when help was requested.
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At that February press conference, man Corina, a sublieutenant in the Los Angeles Sheriff"s department Homicide Bureau, stated that Robert Wagner, 88, was “a person of interest” in her death and they would choose to speak through him again and hear his variation of events. The brand-new witnesses, that said, were people in boats moored near the Wagner yacht who heard a couple loudly arguing and a woman calling for help.
“The instance is still open,” claims Suzanne Finstad, author of Natasha: The story of Natalie Wood. (Natasha to be the surname her Russian family referred to as her.) once Finstad’s book was released in 2009, it consisted of startling claims about arguments between Wood and also Wagner shortly before she was declared lacking from their yacht. The source was the fourth person ~ above the boat, that is captain, Dennis Davern, who is now 70. In the February press conference, Corina said the angry statements from those that heard a pair fighting matched up v what Davern has said in current police interviews.
Corina included that his room have likewise talked to witnesses who saw the team on Catalina Island the weekend and people that knew Wagner and Wood. Few of the details that have actually emerged around the last hours of the yacht are ugly, through whispers that drunkenness, rage, and also accused infidelity.
The life that Natalie wood is like a Russian matryonshka doll, a collection of wooden dolls nesting in one another. When you pick up one doll, girlfriend find another inside, over and also over. Even those who believed themselves acquainted with the life story the the sparkling hardwood would be taken aback by the fact of she childhood.
Born Natalia Nikolaevna Zakharenko, timber was the daughter the Russian immigrants. (Studio executives adjusted Natalia’s surname to Natalie Wood once she first started acting together a child.) her father, Nikolai Zakharenko, was a laborer offered to violent alcoholic rages, and also her mother, Maria, was a fantasist and also abusive taskmaster that drove her tiny daughter to become the household breadwinner, follow to Finstad’s biography and also other books, documentaries, and also articles around Wood.
Maria’s family fled to China after the Russian Revolution, and also when she to be a child, she stated she had actually her fortune check out by a gypsy in Harbin. The fortune teller told her the her second child “would be a good beauty, 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, while pushing her to satisfy that an initial prophecy.
There room harrowing story of Maria’s career together a phase mother. She was established that her daughter, ~ receiving small parts, would certainly be cast in the 1946 film Tomorrow Is Forever alongside Orson Welles. The personality was the of one emotionally delicate girl orphaned through the Nazis. To success the part, hardwood would have to be able to cry top top cue. Her mother wasn’t certain she can do it. At the studio, clutching her seven-year-old daughter prior to her display test, Maria whispered to her to think that the fatality of the family dog.
But she went much further than that, follow to Finstad’s book. “Her mom pulled her to the side, wherein no one else could see, ‘took a live butterfly the end of a jar and tore the wings off it.’ Tenderhearted Natasha got in hysterics as her mother dubbed out, ‘She’s ready!’ grabbing her by the hand and also pushing her in front of the camera.”
Wood was so relocating in the film the she won a long-term studio contract. She to be famously hard-working, learning not simply her lines yet everyone else’s, and also earning the nickname “One take it Natalie.” She perform in a dizzying number of movies, consisting of The Ghost and also Mrs. Muir, and, as she got to her teen years, wore braids and frilly dresses so she can play younger roles.
But, unsurprisingly, hardwood rebelled from she mother’s tight control and her ultra-wholesome image by the moment she to be 16. She want to it is in a “real” actress, an artist, and also with some difficulty won a part in Rebel without a Cause, co-starring James Dean and Sal Mineo.
This duration also introduced her sex-related rebelliousness. Wood, 16, had actually an affair through the 44-year-old director, Nicholas Ray, and also slept with her co-star Dennis Hopper, according to Finstad’s book. In the next few years she would day entertainers favor Elvis Presley and heartthrob Tab Hunter. In Hunter’s instance she was play the part of beard, because the gay actor was then in the closet.
Wagner to be different. She had actually long had a to like on the handsome actor, and also they go on their very first date on she 18th birthday. They married one year later, in 1957, coming to be Hollywood’s golden couple. But the marriage did no last. Adhering to their divorce in 1962, wood dated Warren Beatty before marrying brother producer Richard Gregson in 1969. The was through Gregson the she had her very first daughter, Natasha.
To the happiness of she fans, after she divorced Gregson in 1972, timber got ago in touch with Wagner. Lock remarried that same year, one decade after your divorce. This time, the marital relationship flourished, and they had a daughter, Courtney. Wagner’s career take it off as soon as he discovered a fight TV collection in Hart come Hart. During that time, lumber made fewer films. Part say she wanted to devote much more time to she family, but she was additionally finding it hard to get good parts after 40.
Wood’s critical movie was Brainstorm, in i m sorry she play a scientist married come a other scientist portrayed by Christopher Walken. The new York-based actor had just won an Academy Award because that The Deer Hunter. Hardwood told girlfriend she was worried the she looked older 보다 Walken onscreen (she was 5 years his senior), but they struck up a friendship, and also rumors swirled about their connection.
The film’s very first assistant director, David McGiffert said Wood’s biographer, “It wasn’t choose they were lovey-dovey ~ above the collection or anything like that, however they just had actually a current around them, and an electricity.”
"It wasn’t choose they to be lovey-dovey top top the set or anything favor that, yet they just had a current around them, and also an electricity."
For the Thanksgiving weekend the 1981, Wood and Wagner invited Walken to sign up with them as they sailed about Catalina Island, a rocky getaway about 22 miles turn off the shores the Los Angeles. Wagner love his yacht Splendour and the family spent as much time on it as they could; in a 1979 TV interview, lumber talked around how it enabled the family to escape the general public eye. “It’s easy with the boat,” she claimed with a smile.
Davern, a family members friend and also Navy vet, was the captain that fateful weekend. He has actually said in lot of interviews—and in a publication that the co-wrote with Marti Rulli, title Goodbye Natalie, goodbye Splendour—that ~ Natalie Wood’s body to be found, Wagner him and also Walken come stick to the original story. The was the timeline that verified up in the 1981 coroner’s report: Natalie checked out bed first; once Wagner ~ chatting through Walken went to join her, he witnessed she was lacking and so was the dinghy.
However, Davern currently says, that wasn’t the entirety truth.
“The argument started the job before,” Davern called Nancy elegant in a televised interview years later. “The tension was going through the totality weekend. Robert Wagner was jealousy of Christopher Walken.”
According come Davern, Wood and Walken spent hours at a bar on Catalina Island, laughing and also seemingly flirting. When her husband verified up, he was fuming. The 4 proceeded to have actually dinner in ~ Doug’s harbor Reef Restaurant, drinking champagne, 2 bottles of wine, and cocktails. In ~ one point, wood or walken threw a glass at the wall, employee of the restaurant said Finstad.
The restaurant manager saw exactly how drunk the members of the group were becoming, and worried they would certainly not have the ability to reach your yacht safely once they staggered out simply after 10 p.m. Using their blow up dinghy, Valiant, the group did reach Splendour that night, but Wood to be dead hours before sunrise.
The story of what occurred when the four of them went back to the yacht has changed several times. Follow to Finstad’s book, Walken early on told the investigators that he and Wagner acquired into a “small beef” around a parent being far from young youngsters for an extended time shooting a movie, as Natalie to be doing. Apologies to be made, and also the spat died down.
However, in his many recent version, Davern claims they resumed drinking wine and that a really heated argument exploded, throughout which Wagner damaged a party of alcohol on a table and shouted at Walken, “Are you trying come f—-k mine wife?”
Davern said Walken left to walk to his own room “and that was the last I observed of him.” Wood also left for her state room, with Wagner following, and also Davern heard the following loud quarrel. While Davern walk not watch them at this point, he claimed he heard the argument proceed on the deck that the boat, before “everything go silent.” after ~ a time, he determined to inspect on the situation, and also found Wagner alone ~ above deck, saying, “Natalie is missing.” the asked Davern come start trying to find her.
When his find was unsuccessful, Davern said he rejoined Wagner, that then called him, “The dinghy is lacking too.” through Natalie lumber being “deathly fear of water,” Davern states he doubted she would have taken the end the small boat herself. He has actually said in multiple interviews that Wagner, speak he didn’t want to attract bad publicity, refused to revolve on the boat’s overwhelming lights and also delayed calling because that help.
Sheriff’s investigators have actually referred to a key witness statement indigenous Marilyn Wayne, who taken place to it is in in a watercraft moored 80 feet far at the time. Wayne stated that around 11 p.m., she heard a woman calling out, saying, “Somebody please help me, I’m drowning.” The cries went on until practically 11:30 pm. Once Wayne’s friend tried to call the harbormaster, nobody answered. Also, there might have to be a party on one more boat moored turn off the island, so they wondered if that was all a joke.
Most troubling, it appears there was a an essential gap before anyone learned wood was missing. Much from notifying authorities “immediately,” follow to Finstad’s reporting in she book and also Davern in his countless television and also print interviews, Wagner did no make the first call to shore until 1:30 a.m.
Lana Wood, Natalie’s younger sister, has often called for Wagner to say an ext about what happened that night. “She would certainly never have actually left the watercraft like that, undressed, in just a nightgown,” stated Wood in one TV interview.
In 2013, Wagner released a statement through his attorney, Blair Berk, together reported by E! News: "Mr. Wagner has totally cooperated end the last 30 year in the investigation of the accidental drowning of his mam in 1981. Mr. Wagner has actually been interviewed on many occasions through the Los Angeles sheriff’s department and also answered every solitary question request of him by detectives during those interviews.”
The sheriff’s department claimed in February that the team is still working to watch if more witnesses deserve to still psychic the night and also may help fill in the timeline and also provide an ext clues around when precisely Wood went into the water. “We’re law our last shot below to check out if anyone else will come forward,” stated Corina at the push conference.
Finstad claimed that something might still advancement the investigation: “In the previous several months I’ve sent the lead detective two new incriminating eyewitnesses to Natalie’s injuries. After my book was released I uncovered a key witness Davern called in a panic hours after Natalie drowned to confide how she walk overboard,” the biographer called Town & Country.
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Wagner has never to be charged with any crime in connection to the death of his wife, meaning that if he chose to give additional statements come the police, it would certainly be completely voluntary. Follow to the associated Press, “Investigators make at the very least 10 attempts to interview Wagner again ~ reopening the investigation in 2011, consisting of tracking him down in Colorado. However 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 have the right to never pressure him to speak to us. He has rights and also he have the right to not talk to us if the doesn’t want to.”
The Sheriff’s Department’s public acknowledgement that Wagner was a human of interest only deepens the tragedy because that Finstad. “The L.A. Coroner, remarkably, officially changed her cause of fatality 30 year later—which way that Wood’s suspicious and also gruesome death was never ever investigated and she to be wrongly and publicly blamed and also shamed as the drunken cause of her very own death,” states Finstad.
Wagner, dubbed “R.J.” through those who understand him, showed up to have actually been shattered by the loss of his wife. He created in his memoir, “There are only two possibilities—either she to be trying to get away indigenous the argument or she to be trying to tie the dinghy. However the bottom heat is the nobody knows precisely what happened.”
Natalie and R.J.’s daughter, Courtney, was 7 years old when she lost her mother. Courtney has continually expressed she love and also support for her father, praising his efforts to safeguard his children, and also told one interviewer, “There are certain people in our lives that continue to drudge up all this speculation and stories every year for no various other reason than to indulge themselves.”
Like Wagner, Walken has said very tiny in public about Wood’s death. In one of his couple of statements, he argued that world couldn’t handle the strangeness, the randomness, the Wood’s drowning.
“Anybody there witnessed the logistics—of the boat, the night, whereby we were, that it to be raining—and would certainly know precisely what happened,” Walken stated 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, step off the curb in London since they think that the dare come the other way—and they die. You feel you want to die making an effort at something; you don’t want to die in some unnecessary way.”
For those that knew Wood, the is the ugliness of her fatality that is so deeply painful, because that she was a kind, warmth woman who took proud in looking her best. And also up to that last fateful weekend, she appeared to have actually been deeply in love with her husband.