NEW YORK -- As Robert Wagner remembers it, there was drinking the last night of Natalie Wood's life and some arguing, but nothing that explained why she was found dead the following morning.
"Nobody knows," Wagner wrote in his best-selling memoir "Pieces of My Heart," published in 2008.
The circumstances of her death remain one of Hollywood's enduring mysteries and continue to create renewed intrigue, with homicide detectives unexpectedly reopening the case Thursday that had long been classified as a tragic accident. Sheriff's spokesman Steve Whitmore said the renewed inquiry was prompted by unspecified new information about Wood's case.
A Los Angeles County sheriff's detective, Lt. John Corina, told reporters Friday that Robert Wagner is not a suspect in his Oscar-nominated wife's nighttime demise in the chilly waters off Southern California on Nov. 29, 1981. Wood drowned after spending several hours drinking on Catalina Island and a yacht with Wagner, fellow actor Christopher Walken and the ship's captain, Dennis Davern.
Davern, skipper of the Splendour, told NBC's "Today" show on Friday that he made mistakes by not telling the truth about events leading to the Thanksgiving weekend death and had urged Los Angeles County sheriff's homicide investigators to reopen the case. Davern has said for years that the official account of Wood's disappearance was not what really happened.
In his book, Wagner recalls tension between himself and Wood and Walken in the day leading up to her death. She was a bad swimmer and was afraid of the water, but she argued with Wagner when he suggested they move their boat, the Splendour, closer to shore. During their last dinner, there was "quite a bit of wine," but Wagner said no one was "anywhere near drunk," only tipsy.
Wagner said he became "pissed off" when Walken began advocating the "total pursuit of a career" and hinting that Wood should feel the same. Wagner cursed at him and told him to mind his own business, slamming a wine bottle so hard it broke. By this time, Wood had already left the meal and gone to the lower part of the boat, to the master cabin. She did not storm out, Wagner recalled, but simply left.
"The last time I saw my wife she was fixing her hair at a little vanity in the bathroom while I was arguing with Chris Walken," he wrote. "I saw her shut the door. She was going to bed."
Wagner continued arguing with Walken, a fight that Wagner thought could have become physical, but didn't. Walken went to bed and Wagner stayed up for a while with Davern before himself deciding to turn in.
"I went below, and Natalie wasn't there," he wrote. "Strange. I went back up on the deck and looked around for her and noticed the dinghy was gone. Stranger. I remember wondering if she'd taken the dinghy because of the argument, and then I thought, No way, because she was terrified of dark water, and besides that, the dinghy fired up loudly, and we would have heard it, whether we were in the salon or on deck."
He speculated that she might have driven the dinghy to a cove and the engine died. The dinghy was found in a cove the following morning at 5:30 a.m., but Wood wasn't on it.
"We had just run out of options, but I didn't allow myself to actually contemplate what that meant – it was too unthinkable," he wrote.
Two hours later her body was found in the water, with bruises on her arms and legs.
My knees went out; everything went away from me," Wagner wrote of his reaction. "Soon afterward, a helicopter came and took us to the mainland."
Wagner says he still doesn't know what happened. He thinks she might have gotten up to refasten the dinghy, then slipped and fell in the water, the dinghy drifting away.
"But it's all conjecture," he wrote. "Nobody knows."
"Yes, I blamed myself. Natalie would have felt the same way had it happened to me. Why wasn't I there? Why wasn't I watching? I would have done anything in the world to make her life better or protect her. Anything. I would have given my life for hers, because that's the way we were."