The Tragic Demise of Actress Natalie Wood

Herbie J Pilato

According to journalist Maryn Liles and, "On Nov. 29, 1981, around 7:30 a.m., actress Natalie Wood’s body was found floating face down in the Pacific Ocean about 200 yards away from Catalina Island’s Blue Cavern Point. She was wearing only a flannel nightgown, blue wool socks, and a red down jacket. Wood was one of Hollywood’s biggest stars up until the time of her death with roles that included Miracle on 34th Street and West Side Story. Eerily, Wood’s mother had given the fear of dark water to her daughter because a fortune teller had prophesied that she would die of drowning. As a child, it was reported that her fear of water was so great she was even afraid to wash her hair and had recurring nightmares about drowning."

As Liles continues to document, "Wood had been working on the film Brainstorm at the time along with actor Christopher Walken and was invited to join her and her husband, Robert Wagner on their yacht named the Splendor. According to the Captain and family friend, Dennis Davern, Wood had become infatuated with Walken during filming and Wagner had flown to the movie set to 'make sure [he] wasn’t making a fool of [himself] over this.' The group left on the boat around 12 in the afternoon on Nov. 27, 1981."

"Everyone on the boat," Liles notes, "...including the Captain, had been drinking for much of the weekend. On that Friday night, Wood and Wagner had argued to the point where Davern became concerned and asked Walken to get involved. Walken refused to intervene and is quoted saying, 'Never get involved in an argument between a man and his wife.' Davern ended up taking Wood to shore that night using the ship’s dinghy, The Prince Valiant, and they slept at a hotel in Avalon. The next morning, they returned to the yacht and Wood agreed to spend the rest of the weekend onboard."

"That afternoon," Liles observes, "...Wood and Walken went to shore to begin drinking at Doug’s Harbor Reef and Saloon. They had much to drink and their waitress reported Wood not eating much of her dinner and stumbling out of the restaurant when they were done. Walken and Wood boarded the dinghy and went back to the yacht around 10 p.m. A witness from the Harbor Patrol said they heard Wood scream about something, but they brushed it off because she was intoxicated.

"Witnesses from a nearby boat claimed they heard shouts around midnight. However, there was a party going on nearby so they thought it was from the party and didn’t intervene. One of the witnesses, John Payne, said he heard a woman scream 'Help me! Someone help me!' coming from the stern of the Splendor and potentially from a dinghy. He then thought he heard a man’s voice say 'Okay honey, we’ll get you,' but the tone was so mocking which is why he thought the cries were associated with the party.

"According to Wagner, there was a non-violent argument that broke out between him and Walken over politics. Wood wasn’t involved and quickly became bored and assumedly went to bed. However, Wagner didn’t realize she was missing until he went to go kiss her goodnight around 1:30 a.m. The Coast Guard was alerted and Wood was found floating six hours later about a mile away from the yacht with the dinghy not too far from her. Los Angeles County coroner Thomas Noguchi ruled the cause of her death to be accidental drowning and hypothermia. According to Noguchi, Wood had been drinking and she may have slipped while trying to re-board the dinghy. Wood’s sister Lana expressed doubts, alleging that Wood could not swim and had been terrified of water all her life and that she would never have left the yacht on her own by dinghy. To this day, her death remains a mystery," Liles concluded.

To read more about Natalie Wood's tragic death, click here.

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Herbie J Pilato is the author of several books about pop culture including the newly-published CONNERY, SEAN CONNERY biography, the revised BIONIC BOOK, RETRO ACTIVE TELEVISION, THE 12 BEST SECRETS OF CHRISTMAS, MARY: THE MARY TYLER MOORE STORY, TWITCH UPON A STAR, and more. He's also a TV writer/producer, and has worked for Reelz, Bravo, E!, TLC, and hosted THEN AGAIN WITH HERBIE J PILATO, the hit classic TV talk show (which premiered on Amazon Prime in 2019).

Los Angeles, CA

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