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The Demise of Film Star Natalie Wooden Stays a Thriller to This Day

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Natalie Wooden was arguably the quintessential American film star. She began out as a toddler actor on the age of 5, showing in standard movies like Miracle on thirty fourth Road, earlier than coming of age on display in Insurgent With no Trigger, The Searchers and Splendor within the Grass, and carving out a spot in Hollywood historical past along with her roles within the musicals West Facet Story and Gypsy. Sadly, Wooden’s physique of labor and contributions to popular culture are regularly overshadowed by her loss of life: she drowned in 1981 throughout an tour on her husband Robert Wagner’s yacht. She was 43.

In a brand new HBO documentary, Natalie Wooden: What Stays Behind, Wooden’s daughter Natasha conducts interviews with Wagner, in addition to Wooden’s different family and friends members, making an attempt to color a fuller portrait of who she was as an actress, a spouse, and a mom. The movie additionally addresses the mysterious circumstances surrounding Wooden’s passing, which have led to widespread hypothesis and suspicion that Wagner was someway concerned.

The recognized sequence of occasions is as follows. Wooden and Wagner went out to Catalina Island on the yacht, the Splendour, on Thanksgiving weekend—one thing they’d executed many occasions earlier than. They invited quite a few their associates alongside, however a number of declined the invitation, and so the one individuals on the boat with the couple had been actor Christopher Walken, who was working with Wooden on the film Brainstorm, and the yacht’s captain, Dennis Davern.

Wooden’s physique was recovered by coastal authorities on the morning of Sunday November 29. One of many boat’s dinghies was additionally discovered close by. The post-mortem discovered that Wooden’s blood alcohol degree was 0.14 p.c, and that she had additionally taken a painkiller and a tablet for movement illness, which can have exacerbated the results of the alcohol. There have been additionally bruises on the physique.

Robert Wagner and Natalie Wooden in 1977.
Ron GalellaGetty Pictures

The reason for loss of life was finally dominated an unintended drowning, with one hypothetical situation devised by the coroner being that Wooden slipped and fell into the water whereas making an attempt to board the dinghy. Within the documentary, Natasha posits that her mom could have been making an attempt to re-moor the dinghy, as she was delicate to noise and the banging sound of the dinghy being pushed towards the boat by the water could have woken her.

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Wooden’s sister, Lana, has maintained for years that Natalie was petrified of water and would by no means have gone out on a dinghy by herself. (Within the documentary, Wooden’s daughter Natasha explains that her grandmother was very superstitious round water, however that her mom had by no means exhibited such a worry.)

Lana has additionally repeatedly accused Wagner of being concerned in her sister’s loss of life. Wagner, who married Wooden in 1957 after which remarried her in 1972 following their divorce, has all the time denied such claims. Nevertheless, he has since admitted that he did initially lie and say he and Wooden did not argue the evening earlier than she drowned. Within the movie, he remembers that he felt jealous of Wooden’s working relationship with Walken, though a number of members within the documentary refute the rumors that Walken and Wooden had been having an affair (a well-liked concept on the time). Wagner now calls Walken a “stand-up man.”

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