Natalie Wood’s death has been shrouded in mystery for nearly 40 years, but one thing is certain: There was an argument aboard the yacht the late actress was on just hours before she was found drowned off the coast of Catalina Island in November 1981. Wood’s death was initially ruled an accident and the case was closed, but the circumstances surrounding her death have been the subject of speculation for decades.
In 2011, the investigation into Natalie Wood’s death was reopened, and now, a new CBS News report reveals that Natalie Wood’s then-husband, Robert Wagner, has now been named “a person of interest” in her death.
On the night that Natalie died, Captain Dennis Davern, Robert Wagner, and Wood’s friend and movie co-star, Christopher Walken, were all aboard the Wagner family’s yacht, Splendour. At the time of her death, Natalie Wood was shooting the MGM film Brainstorm with Walken, so the Wagners invited the quirky actor to join them on their yacht in Catalina for the Thanksgiving holiday weekend. According to HuffPost, the three stars were spotted eating dinner at Doug’s Harbor Reef earlier in the evening — and the champagne was flowing. The trio’s drinking reportedly continued throughout the night.
In Robert Wagner’s 2008 memoir, Pieces of My Heart, he admitted he got into a heated argument with Walken over Natalie’s career during the trip. Wagner wrote that he and Christopher had argued over whether Natalie should pursue her career or focus on her family life.
“I picked up a wine bottle, slammed it on the table and broke it into pieces,” Wagner revealed in his memoir, according to People.
“The last time I saw my wife she was fixing her hair in the bathroom while I was arguing with Chris. I saw her shut the door.”
A law enforcement insider told Radar Online that Christopher Walken met with detectives after the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Dept. reopened Natalie Wood’s case in 2011, but that his side of the argument was a bit different than Wagner’s. The insider alleges Walken told investigators that Robert Wagner flew into a jealous rage about his relationship with Natalie and went so far as to accuse Wood and Walken of having an affair. Christopher Walken also confirmed that he left the cabin after Robert Wagner smashed a bottle of wine on the table on the night of November 28, 1981, and that he went to sleep.
The boat’s captain, Dennis Davern, also confirmed that Wagner and Walken had a nasty argument that evening. According to the Sun, Davern told investigators in 2011 that Wagner shouted at Christopher Walken “Do you want to f**k my wife?” before smashing a bottle of wine. Wagner later reportedly yelled at Christopher to “get off my f**king boat.”
But Davern also gave detailed information about the argument, saying it started out as a spat between Robert Wagner and Natalie Wood. Davern told police that Wagner and Wood were arguing about how much she was away from home due to her movie career and how much he missed her. Walken reportedly walked in on the spat and began supporting Natalie’s views. Davern alleged that Walken noted how upset Wagner was getting and that he briefly walked out to the deck.
“Christopher went down to take a nap or something, and Natalie and R.J. started fighting,” Davern said, according to Vanity Fair. “I thought, I don’t believe this! I don’t believe this fight is still going on. This was later in the afternoon. Natalie says to R.J., ‘You’re being so silly.’ It went back and forth and back and forth.”
Davern revealed that Natalie Wood wanted him to take her ashore because “the tension on the boat was unbearable.”
The captain also stated that the fighting between Wood and Wagner was getting so out of hand that he knocked on Christopher Walken’s stateroom door and asked him to intervene, but Walken refused, reportedly saying, “Never get involved in an argument between a man and a wife.”
For decades, rumors of a love triangle have dominated the story of Natalie Wood’s final days. In 1984, Natalie Wood’s sister, Lana, wrote in her own book, Natalie, that Wood had a great affection for Christopher Walken, but she believed it was nothing more than that.
“I don’t know if Natalie’s [love affair] with Chris was imaginary or real, though my strong suspicion is that it was all in her mind and that perhaps she was only wishing it to be so,” Lana Wood wrote.