We all know of the tragic end of Natalie Wood’s life. On November 29, 1981, at 7:30 A.M., the body of the beautiful, 43-year-old movie star—whose peak career spanned from her pigtailed child-star turn in Miracle on 34th Street to her portrayal, at 17, of a teenage “bad girl” in Rebel Without a Cause and her aching roles, at 23, in Splendor in the Grass and West Side Story—was found floating in the Pacific Ocean, off the coast of Catalina Island. She was discovered far away from the yacht upon which she and her husband, Robert Wagner, and their friend Christopher Walken had been cruising, with stopovers in Avalon and no small amount of drinking and fighting.
Within a few days the death was ruled “accidental” by Los Angeles’s then coroner, Thomas Noguchi. At first Wagner claimed Wood slipped, and the case was swiftly closed. Wagner amended that scenario in 1986, saying that Wood (who could barely swim and who was deeply afraid of “dark water”) had gotten out of bed and, in the dead of night, despite there being three strong men aboard (Wagner, Walken, and the captain, Dennis Davern), fallen into the sea while trying to pull up the dinghy that was banging against the side of the boat.