By 1981 Robert Wagner’s movie star was on the wane.
Contemporaries such as Brando, Newman, Nicholson and McQueen had passed him by, cementing their screen legends.
Young, method actors like De Niro, Pacino, Hoffman & Walken stole the accolades, Academy Awards, and leading man roles.
Wagner was relegated to profitable television shows like Hart to Hart:
( IMDp–) “Jonathan Hart was a self-made millionaire–the CEO of Hart Industries, a global conglomerate. His gorgeous wife Jennifer was a freelance journalist. They were both amateur sleuths, and in every episode found themselves up to their eyeballs in murder, smuggling, theft and international espionage. Max was their loyal, gravelly-voiced butler, cook & chauffeur, and Freeway their pet canine.”
In real life, Robert Wagner was a self-made millionaire–the CEO of Wagner Inc., a global star. His gorgeous wife Natalie Wood was a silver screen siren. On November 29, 1981 they found themselves up to their eyeballs in quaaludes, weed, wine, champagne, scotch, and murder. Substitute captain Dennis Davern for Max and Christopher Walken for Freeway and you have as unbelievable a plot as ever seen on Hart to Hart.
Wagner & Wood married in ’57 divorced in ’62 & remarried in ’72.
In his 2009 memoir, Pieces of My Heart, Wagner writes about being jealous and possessive of Wood, considering murdering Warren Beatty because of his relationship with Wood, he waited outside Beatty’s home with a gun. “I was pretty young, and I don’t think I could have gone through with it, but I was pretty frustrated and upset. Beatty was the man.”
Starring opposite Christopher Walken, Wagner visited Wood on the set of Brainstorm in 1981 and felt he didn’t have her full attention. In his book he describes her as being “emotionally unfaithful.”
Wagner and Wood invited Walken aboard their boat, the Splendour, for a Thanksgiving weekend trip to California’s Catalina Island.
The trio, along with ship captain Dennis Davern, had dinner and drank heavily at Doug’s Harbor Reef before returning to the boat around 10:30 PM.
According to Wagner’s memoir, “Chris began talking about his ‘total pursuit of a career,’ which he admitted was more important to him than his personal life. He clearly thought Natalie should live like that, too. I got angry. ‘Why don’t you stay out of her career?’ I said. ‘She’s got enough people telling her what to do without you. — The last time I saw my wife, she was fixing her hair in the bathroom while I was arguing with Chris.”
According to captain Dennis Davern’s statement to LACSD:
“Robert Wagner grabbed the open wine bottle and with rage crashed it upon the coffee table and screamed out to Christopher Walken, ‘Do you want to fuck my wife, is that what you want?’ –Walken retreated to his cabin forward and closed the cabin door. He remained there until morning. Natalie Wood was mortified and went immediately to the rear deck. Robert Wagner followed her within minutes and then a terrible argument proceeded. –I turned on the radio and played music loudly to muffle the arguing. –The only full sentence I could completely decipher during the entire argument was ‘Get off my fucking boat,’ said by Robert Wagner. –When I arrived on the rear open deck, only Robert Wagner was present, and he stood near the far rear wall of the yacht. –Wagner appeared sweaty, flushed, anxious, nervous, and disheveled. He told me ‘Natalie is missing’ and asked me to search the yacht. –I immediately wanted to radio for help and to turn on the searchlight, but Wagner told me, sternly, ‘We are not going to do that. We will wait and see if she returns.’ –While we waited, Robert Wagner opened scotch and poured alcohol for me. He encouraged me to drink. He discussed with me the repercussions of bringing any immediate attention to the situation and he claimed he did not want to tarnish his image. After an hour passed, Robert Wagner began crying and repeated, ‘She’s gone, she’s gone, she’s gone’ which I believed a strange thing to say.”
Natalie Wood was found dead floating face down at 7:45 AM.
Ear witness, retired stockbroker, Marilyn Wayne reported, “My cabin window was open. A woman’s voice, crying for help, awakened John and awakened me, ‘Help me, someone please help me, I’m drowning,’ we heard repeatedly.” She said John turned on their yacht’s beam light but could not see anything. She also claims to have heard a man’s slurred voice from the direction of Wagner’s boat saying: “Oh, hold on, we’re coming to get you.” Later, in a sworn statement to the LA Sheriff’s department, she received a scribbled note warning her: “If you value your life, keep quiet about what you know.”
Lana Wood, Natalie’s sister, estranged from Wagner, wrote Natalie: A Memoir by Her Sister which questions the night’s events.
In 2000 an investigation by Vanity Fair magazine, based largely on interviews with Davern, concluded: “Wood’s death was the final act in a two-day drama of jealousy and rage, fuelled by round-the-clock drinking.”
In January of 2013 the LA County coroner’s office made public the fact they changed the official cause of death for actress Natalie Wood from “accidental drowning” to “drowning and other undetermined factors.”
The LA County Sheriff’s Department says the case is open and ongoing.
82 year old Robert Wagner is refusing to answer any more questions now that the case has been reopened.
In 2011, when asked how he felt about the 30-year-old investigation being revived, Christopher Walken said, “I don’t know.”
Walken is not publicly talking but is willing to talk to investigators. When asked about Wood’s death during a promotional appearance on CBS This Morning, he stated: “I stopped talking about that 30 years ago, and there’s so much information, books and Internet and, you know, everything. Anything you want to know, go look.”