During a night out on a yacht near Catalina Island on November 29, 1981, with her husband, Robert Wagner, and friend, Christopher Walken, actress Natalie Wood mysteriously ended up in the water and drowned at the age of 43. Now, nearly four decades later, Natasha Gregson Wagner is revisiting the tragedy that took her mother’s life with both a memoir and an HBO documentary.
Natasha, 49, is the daughter of Natalie Wood and her second husband, Richard Gregson, but she calls both Gregson and Wagner “dad.” Wagner raised Natasha and her sisters, Katie and Courtney, after Wood died, but there has been a dark cloud hanging over him for years because of his wife’s mysterious death.
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Many have speculated that Wagner either failed to save Wood or caused her death in some way, which is something he vehemently denies.
“For so many years we were advised to ignore or not talk about it,” Natasha tells People magazine. “But enough is enough. I know that if my mom had been in any kind of distress, he would have given his life for her.”
“It’s true,” the 90-year-old Wagner says in a rare interview. “She said that because she knows me and she knows that I never would have done anything to hurt her mother.”
Natasha explores the subject in her memoir More Than Love and the HBO documentary Natalie Wood: What Remains Behind. In the doc, Wagner tells Natasha about what he remembers from that night on their yacht, the Splendour, after he, Wood, and Walken returned to the boat following an offshore dinner and drinks.
Wagner says that he and Walken argued over how much Wood should be working, and during the argument Wood left and went to bed below deck. Sometime later in the evening, Wagner went to check on his wife, but she was gone, and so was their dinghy.
Through tears, Wagner says that “nobody heard anything” that night and he also recalls the moment he was told that Wood’s body had been found. He says he has replayed that night in his mind “so many times” over the years.
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Natasha Gregson Wagner admits that she will never know with “complete certainty” exactly what happened to her mom since she was alone when she died. “It was a terrible, terrible accident,” she writes, “and the only thing to blame was too much alcohol that night.”
Robert Wagner says that Natasha wanted to focus on how Natalie Wood lived, not how she left us. And, through her memoir and documentary, she captured that. “It was a long time coming and I’m so proud of her. Believe me, it wasn’t easy. It was something in her heart and soul that she wanted to do,” said Wagner.
Natalie Wood: What Remains Behind premieres Tuesday, May 5 on HBO.