Nearly 31 years after her early demise, the cause of Hollywood star Natalie Wood’s death has been officially changed from “accident” to “undetermined,” CBS News reported last week.The details surrounding the death of the 43-year-old star – known for her roles in “West Side Story” and “Miracle on 34th Street” – have always been vague and a little scandalous.
Wood drowned in 1981 off Santa Catalina Island while on a yacht with her actor husband Robert Wagner – whom she’d divorced and remarried – and her co-star in a sci-fi film, Christopher Walken.
While Wagner has spoken many times about Wood’s death, Walken has stayed largely mum on the issue throughout the years.
The investigation into her death was suddenly reopened last year and is ongoing despite the recent change. But here are the bizarre details that have come to light so far.
In November of 1981, Natalie Wood and Robert Wagner invited Christopher Walken to spend Thanksgiving weekend on their yacht 'The Splendour' off Catalina Island.
On the night of November 28, 1981, the three went to the restaurant Doug's Harbor Reef, drinking at the bar and ordering two more bottles of champagne over dinner, according to Wood's coroner's report.
Things got tense after dinner, Wagner later acknowledged.
The night Wood died, he and Walken fiercely debated how much people should sacrifice their personal lives for their work, Wagner told the LA Times in 2008.
Wagner grew upset that Walken had encouraged Wood to devote herself to her work at the expense of her husband and children, Wagner told the LA Times.
'The last time I saw my wife she was fixing her hair at a little vanity in the bathroom while I was arguing with Chris Walken,' Wagner wrote in his memoir, according to the AP.
'I saw her shut the door,' he added. 'She was going to bed.'
Wagner grew unhappy with Wood after visiting her on the set of 'Brainstorm,' the movie she starred in with Christopher Walken, telling the LA Times that she'd been 'emotionally unfaithful.'
But Wagner has insisted his wife wasn't having an affair.
After the argument, Wood went to bed and Wagner and Walken went out onto the deck of the boat to calm down and get some fresh air, according to a February 2009 article by Wagner himself in the Daily Mail.
But then he noticed that Wood was no longer on the boat, and that the dinghy on the side of the boat was no longer there, either.
Despite her fear of the water, Wagner claims he never heard Wood scream.
'I have gone over it so many millions of times with people,' he told the LA Times. 'Nobody heard anything.'
On Dec. 4, 1981, the New York Times reported a woman near Wood's yacht told the authorities she heard a woman scream the night Wood drowned.
After the screams, the witness heard someone say, 'We're coming to get you.'
Here's what we know from Wood's original autopsy, available here.
Wagner's call for help after his wife went missing was heard at 1:30 a.m. on November 29.
A police helicopter finally located her body and pulled it out of the water a few hours later at 7:44 a.m. She was wearing a flannel gown and wool socks, and a red down jacket was floating near her.
The coroner found the actress had died around midnight, though it was difficult to pinpoint the exact time of death.
Wagner insisted that his wife wasn't suicidal while talking with authorities.
In a stunning development, the Los Angeles sheriff's department reopened the investigation into Wood's death because of 'unspecified new information about her case,' the AP reported in November 2011.
The captain of the couple's ship, Dennis Davern, told the 'Today' show that month that he lied about the events leading up to Wood's death, but he was extremely cagey about what he lied about.
Davern acknowledged a dispute between Wood and her husband ultimately led to her death, and that Wagner didn't do everything he could to look for his wife after she disappeared.
'It was a matter of 'we're not going to look too hard. We're not going to turn on the search light. We're not going to notify anyone at the moment,'' he told 'Today.'
The former ship captain also blamed Wagner for Wood's death, but he wouldn't say why he was at fault.
'I'm not really the investigator here,' Davern said.
However, the authorities said when they reopened the investigation that Wagner was still not a suspect in the case, the AP reported.
The same month the investigation was reopened, Natalie Wood's sister Lana Wood told the 'Today' show that the events surrounding the star's death just didn't 'add up.'
'Dennis had called me many, many years ago, late in the evening ... Trying to unburden himself,' she told 'Today,' referring to the boat's captain and noting he'd told her he felt like a coward after Wood's death.
When 'Today' host Matt Lauer asked whether Lana Wood believed the ship's captain, she said, 'Unfortunately, yeah I do.'
Wood's family members told TMZ the LA County Coroner's office changed the cause of her death from 'accident' to 'undetermined,' ruling that while she drowned, it was now unclear how she ended up in the water.
Investigators also indicated she may have gotten some of the bruises found on her body before she hit the water.
On July 9, TMZ reported that the changed cause of death didn't automatically make Wagner, who's now 82 years old, a suspect in her death -- in fact, he's not.
In reality, the LA County Coroner's office didn't follow protocol because it failed to determine the cause of a number of bruises found on her corpse, TMZ reported.
Some of those bruises may not be consistent with death by drowning,TMZ reported, citing law enforcement sources.
But Wood could have gotten those bruises by banging on the side of the boat as she was hitting the water, rather than by being banged up by a person, those sources told TMZ.
Stay tuned for the final results of the re-opened investigation.
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