Natasha Gregson Wagner still doesn’t believe her father killed her mother

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Over the years, we’ve discussed Natalie Wood’s 1981 death and the continuing investigation into what happened on that boat that tragic night. Wood was on a boat with her then-husband Robert Wagner and Christopher Walken. There was reportedly a lot of drinking and fighting on the boat one night. The next morning, Wood’s body had been found. She drowned in the Pacific, but her body was heavily bruised and battered. Questions lingered, especially about Wagner and the state of their marriage. On a recent Gossip with Celebitchy podcast, we discussed a Vanity Fair exclusive excerpt from Wood’s biographer and friend, Suzanne Finstad. Finstad has been meticulously tracing all of the new information and new testimony coming in over the past decade, and Finstad has basically come to the conclusion that Wagner had a hand in Wood’s death, and that it was most likely murder.

Well, Natalie’s daughter Natasha Gregson Wagner doesn’t believe her stepfather/adopted father Robert Wagner hurt her mom. Natasha produced an HBO documentary called Natalie Wood: What Remains Behind (it debuts May 5th on HBO). Natasha was only 11 years old when her mom died, and this documentary is Natasha’s effort to “reclaim” her mother’s legacy, to remind people that Natalie Wood was more than a tragic death, that she was an incredible actor who did incredible work. Natasha also understands that people still want to talk about the circumstances around her mother’s death, so she interviewed her father herself, on camera, for the documentary. I should say… Natasha has never believed that Robert Wagner had anything to do with her mom’s death. That’s her right. Robert Wagner raised her – she can’t see him that way. She reportedly wrote, in her new book (More Than Love: An Intimate Portrait of My Mother, Natalie Wood) that “My father would never have harmed my mother or failed to save her if he knew she was in danger.” She also said that she hopes the documentary “ends some of that nonsense” about Wagner’s involvement in her mother’s death. Here’s the account Wagner told Natasha in the documentary:

In Natalie Wood: What Remains Behind, Gregson Wagner asks her stepfather to explain what happened the evening Wood fell off the boat. Wagner, in turn, recounts the final voyage he took with Wood, during Thanksgiving weekend 1981—with Dennis Davern and Christopher Walken, Wood’s costar in the 1983 sci-fi film Brainstorm. (Gregson Wagner told Vanity Fair that she asked both Walken and Lana Wood to participate in the documentary, but both declined. While Lana has been vocal about her sister’s death—even participating in the recent podcast Fatal Voyage: The Mysterious Death Of Natalie Wood—Walken has largely avoided commenting upon it. When People brought up Wood’s death in a 1986 interview, the actor responded by snapping, “I don’t know what happened. She slipped and fell in the water. I was in bed then. It was a terrible thing. Look, we’re in a conversation I won’t have. It’s a ——ing bore.”)

The film shows Wagner remembering his final dinner with Wood and Walken, during which Wagner says he enjoyed “a few glasses of vino.” Wagner and Wood had been having conversations about Wood’s career at that point—debating whether she should continue acting, or step away from the screen to spend more time at home with her children. Speaking to his stepdaughter, Wagner recalls opening another bottle of wine, and Wood retiring to bed. Awake with Walken and feeling “high” from the alcohol, Wagner says that Walken then told him that he believed Wood, a brilliant actor, needed to continue acting. Wagner says he angrily told Walken to mind his own business, before “smashing a wine bottle.” Wagner says that he and Walken eventually resolved the argument. After Walken retired to bed, Wagner says that he and Davern swept up the broken bottle on the floor. Then Wagner went downstairs, discovered that Wood was missing, and notified the coast guard.

In the film, Wagner recalls authorities later telling him that Wood’s body had been found.

“Everything just went out from under me,” Wagner says, his voice faltering. “We were all stunned, everybody. That night’s gone through my mind so many times. You can imagine.”

An emotional Wagner then recalls how—before returning to the family’s Beverly Hills home—he met with his therapist to discuss how he should tell Natasha and Courtney about their mother’s death. The stepfather and daughter discuss the heartbreak, the devastating funeral, and the surreal months and years that followed, in which the family struggled to put the pieces of their lives back together. Gregson Wagner and her stepfather—who clearly have a close, loving relationship—do not address some reports, like the one stating that Wood’s body was found with “fresh bruises” on her body, or Davern’s allegation that Wood and Wagner were fighting the night of her death.

Speaking about the conversation she had with her stepfather, which was filmed over the course of two days, Gregson Wagner said, “I am very protective of my stepdad and I adore him. So I didn’t want him to feel uncomfortable or unsafe. And yet I was asking him to step outside of his comfort zone to talk about the night that [Wood] died.” Asked whether she went into the conversation hoping to disprove specific theories, Gregson Wagner said, “I wasn’t really concerned with disproving these outlandish theories, I was more just wanting to have the kind of conversation that he and I have had in the past about other things, but on camera. I wanted him to feel safe enough to unfold, like a flower, and be honest, and show his humanity. That was my goal, or my intention for that interview.”

[From Vanity Fair]

Again, I don’t blame Natasha for believing the man who raised her, or for not wanting to do some kind of forensic examination into her mother’s death. It’s obviously quite painful and Natasha has no desire to reopen those wounds for herself or Wagner. But… yeah, don’t treat this documentary like a real examination about what happened that night. Tons of people who knew both Natalie and Robert Wagner believe that he was capable of murdering her, and that he was capable of being violent with her, and that he’s been living with what he did to her for nearly 40 years.

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Photos courtesy of WENN, Getty.

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38 Responses to “Natasha Gregson Wagner still doesn’t believe her father killed her mother”

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  1. Darla says:

    “Wagner says that Walken then told him that he believed Wood, a brilliant actor, needed to continue acting. Wagner says he angrily told Walken to mind his own business, before “smashing a wine bottle.” ”


    • Erinn says:

      It’s really sad, isn’t it? I mean how many women are murdered by their partners. I’m pretty convinced that if he didn’t purposefully murder her, he was still involved in some way. Maybe they got in a tussle and she tripped and fell. She had fresh bruises on her and a scrape on her head, though I could imagine that you could get pretty banged up if you’re trying to grab onto something as you fell off the boat (and her thyroid meds make people bruise easier), but it certainly doesn’t make him look less suspicious. Either way – it seems to me as though he at least THOUGHT he would be a suspect since he apparently didn’t want the search lights turned on and didn’t want to notify authorities right away. At the very least he certainly decreased her chances of survival. Which – why would you do that if you weren’t involved.

      But I can’t imagine how difficult it would be to think that the man who raised you killed your mother. Especially if you had an overall positive relationship with them. It’d be really difficult to really break that down in your head and obviously your personal bias will sink in easier when you were just a kid when it happened.

  2. Aims says:

    I believe he did it. My theory is, they had been drinking heavily that night. Robert felt that Natalie was flirty with Christopher and one thing led to another and he pushed her into the ocean. Now, I maybe wrong, but I believe he is responsible.

    I don’t blame his daughters for sticking up for him. Nobody wants to believe their father had done anything to their mother. But I absolutely believe he did. The way the found her and she was scared of the water. It’s sad.

  3. Jillian says:

    Natalie was so afraid of water, it was a phobia. I don’t think she went in voluntarily.

    He either pushed her or she fell and he didn’t save her. Walken was there too

  4. Sayrah says:

    She was so beautiful and talented.

  5. Seraphina says:

    I have a DEEP fear of the water. I will only go in up to where I can touch the bottom. That said, I can see how she got on that boat, trusting the people there in case something happened.

    I don’t know a lot about this, but I can see him becoming violent and causing her harm. And if they had been drinking, that is amplified. He may have thought he killed her accident my and then thrown her in the ocean.

    And what an adorable kitten ad!!!!

    • SomeChick says:

      I am not seeing an adorable kitten ad. I am seeing “lipstick for seniors” LOLOL.

      • Jerusha says:

        I’m getting No Touch Thermometers. How do they know my age?😂😂😂

      • Laura says:

        My ad is “the ultimate streaming binge guide” & I don’t even watch shows on my laptop! (what I’m using now to look at Celebitchy) There are so many ways websites track us and remember what we’ve looked at so they can target ads to us. I watched a super interesting video last night about why TVs nowadays are so much cheaper than before. Like how is a 50 inch flat screen smart TV like $600?

        (spoiler: it’s tracking everything you do…)

  6. ChellyPie says:

    It’s easy to find him guilty considering his violent and volatile outbursts. But it’s also possible she actually did slip & fall in as she also had a few drinks that night. The only person that knows the truth about what happened to her that night is literally Natalie herself. Everything else is speculation & that alone is not enough to charge someone w murder.

    • molly says:

      Statistically, a male partner with a history of violent and volatile outbursts almost certainly played a large part in an eventual murder. He totally did it.

  7. Jess says:

    Shame on Walken if he knows more than what he’s told authorities.

  8. Godwina says:

    I have never looked at Wagner and Walken with anything but shudders since I first heard this story as a kid.


  9. Jerusha says:

    I had this vague recollection of Wagner never being without a woman in his life, so I checked his bio. He and Natalie divorced in 1962 and about a year later he was remarried. Divorced second wife in October 1971, but he was engaged to Tina Sinatra from November 1970 until January 1972, a year before he was divorced. Split with Tina, remarried Natalie July 1972. Jill St. John attended her funeral in 1981 and they’ve been together ever since. He doesn’t have much trouble moving on.

    • Christin says:

      I did not know about his engagement to Nancy!

      What I do remember following that Thanksgiving weekend is how fishy it sounded. No one onboard heard her fall and likely scream for help? An argument that upset Natalie was mentioned very early on. And he did get with Jill very soon after the deaths of Natalie and William (Jill’s longtime love).

  10. Lila says:

    I don’t blame her for having a blind spot. That’s not something you would ever want to think of your parents.

    But who are these fools giving her a platform? She needs a therapist, not a film crew.

    • Carol says:

      Actually I don’t think Wagner killed his wife either. I think Natalie got drunk and fell off the boat. They were all smashed. I’ve read so many versions of this story and nothing really makes sense otherwise.

  11. Lilah casting says:

    The first time I saw this Wagner was probably in that Austin powers movie and I didn’t like him he just has a weird feeling he reminded me of that man from that TV show 7th heaven who played the Dad I didn’t watch it he creeped me out seemed to much of the nice perfect man, Michael weatherly played Wagner in that TV movie about Natalie Wood and I thought he seemed perfect for that role turns out weatherly is a sexual predator, for years after watching that movie something just seemed off about the whole thing.

    • Jenn says:

      You are totally right. The dad from 7th Heaven always had an air of something off-putting and almost malevolent about him, and Robert Wagner has that same vibe. Not sure what we’re picking up on, but it’s there.

      Michael Weatherly, I remember watching him guest-host on maybe Live with Kelly?, and you could SEE he was struggling to not make a disgusting sexual remark every thirty seconds. It made me twist uncomfortably in my seat. Not a malevolent vibe, just greasy, if that makes sense? Impulse-control problems. When Eliza Dushku detailed what it was like to work with him, I knew it had to be true — it squared with what I’d seen with my own eyes.

  12. gw says:

    “Then Wagner went downstairs, discovered that Wood was missing, and notified the coast guard.”

    That’s just a plain old lie. It was literally hours after Natalie went missing until they contacted the coast guard. And that was after a couple on another boat heard a woman screaming for help “Help me, I’m drowning!” for 15 mins and then heard a man say “We’re coming to get you” but they didn’t. The couple called harbor patrol but nobody came.

    Sad story. I’m not sure he intentionally wanted to kill her, probably too drunk to know what he was actually doing but he is culpable in her death.

  13. Jaded says:

    I’d like to read Suzanne Finstad’s biography “Natalie Wood”, she’s done exhaustive research that implicates RW in her murder. Here’s a great article from the March issue of Vanity Fair that brings to light a ton of new corroboration that the investigators and coroner simply ignored.

  14. Christin says:

    She has spent nearly 80 percent of her life without her mother. The stated goal of her book and documentary is to spotlight her mother’s life, yet the sit down with her stepfather is the core of the preview (commercial) HBO is currently airing.

    I think the end memorable result will be a filmed softball “interview” with a 90-year-old actor. He’s kept things on the quiet for nearly 40 years. There is little chance he would go off course now. I know a family with a similar sketchy spousal demise, and the kids (even as middle aged adults) never go against the living parent and shut themselves off from the deceased’s family. I am curious to see if Natasha changes her stance once he’s gone. I did read that Natasha allegedly offered Natalie’s sister Lana a chance to be interviewed.

  15. JByrdKU says:

    I’m a true crime fanatic, and the Natalie Wood case is fascinating. She died long before I was born, but my parents have discussed her in such glowing terms that this is an interest to me.

    I could absolutely be wrong, but I think he did it. There are a lot of ways that it could’ve happened, but I think they had another argument and he threw (nudged) her in the water to be a jerk. I don’t think it was premeditated, but I think he either tossed or nudged her in to the water, and didn’t actually care about what happened until he’d sobered up and she was noticed missing.

    I think almost everyone on that boat was drunk that night, and I think a few people know exactly what happened.

    • Christin says:

      I think your theory is very plausible.

      There were arguments and lots of alcohol. Unless all of them were blackout drunk, it is hard to believe that the three men on board do not know what happened. The boat was not a cruise ship. There had to be awareness or discussion of it that night.

      I’ve always thought that Walken has to know more. Did he just sleep through it and leave the next morning?

      • JByrdKU says:

        I’m not sure, but how crazy would it be to completely sleep through something like that and then the next day be all “OooooHHHH! WHAT?!” Yeah…I love Walken as an actor, but everything seems sketchy about the situation.

  16. Valiantly Varnished says:

    She’s in a tough spot. This is the man that raised her. One would hope that she would be able to look at the evidence clearly but I also can understand why she would be unable to do so. Also, imagine the emotional devastation of realizing the man who raised you essentially as a single patent was the reason you had no mother? That would be and awful thing to live with.

  17. lemonylips says:

    She looks so much like her mother and to this day I find her to be one of the most beautiful actresess and very talented. On this story – it’ so complicated, I just wish something like that had not happened.

  18. H says:

    Normally, I don’t believe in conspiracies but I think he did it…accidentally. Maybe Walken wasn’t there, who knows. I think RW pushed her, but didn’t intend for her to die.

    Natalie had a tough life, stage mom, allegedly Kirk Douglas raped her at 16, then marriage to Wagner who she divorced after finding him having sex with his butler. She didn’t deserve this ending, especially with her phobia of water.

  19. Ashley says:

    It isn’t right for her daughter to come out with a documentary or to even feel pushed to do so. I agree that she can’t blame her stepfather, after what happened, was he the only family she had? And making this just seems so hurtful to her. I don’t think she can be objective enough to really get to the heart of the matter. I won’t be watching.

    But that being said I didn’t know that actress was her daughter. I guess I never really knew her name.

  20. Appalachian says:

    Ignorance must be bliss. It’s like Paris not believing anything about her dad.
    It’s pitiable.