Robert Wagner: The Hollywood heartthrob at the center of Natalie Wood’s mysterious death
Robert Wagner, the Hollywood heartthrob, began his career when he was young. “I was 19 years old. I was the boy next door. But you always felt you could work your way up, that you could have a better part in the next picture,” he said in a Los Angeles interview.
Best known for starring in television shows ‘It Takes a Thief’, ‘Switch’ and ‘Hart to Hart’, the actor has also had a long run at the movies and started with the Austin Powers trilogy. His other notable movies are ‘A Kiss Before Dying’, ‘The Pink Panther’, ‘Harper’ and ‘The Towering Inferno’.
Having proved his acting skills on stage, screen as well as television, he starred with some of the biggest stars. He starred in a film made for television with Audrey Hepburn in ‘Love Among Thieves’ (1987), a miniseries with Jaclyn Smith called ‘Windmills of the Gods’ (1988) and also played ‘Love Letters’ on stage with Stefanie Powers.
After a successful career, he dropped a bomb. In his memoir ‘Pieces of My Heart’, he confessed about his swinging affairs. Among those were popular actresses such as Yvonne De Carlo, Joan Crawford, Elizabeth Taylor, Anita Ekberg, Shirley Anne Field, Lori Nelson and Joan Collins. It is said he had a four-year romantic relationship with Barbara Stanwyck after they starred in ‘Titanic’ (1953). He was 22 and she was 45 and the affair was top secret.
In 1957, when he was 27, he got married to the charming 19-year-old actress Natalie Wood. However, they separated in June 1961 and divorced on April 27, 1962. He got in touch with an old friend in the spring of 1963, Marion Marshall, and the duo got married and they even had a daughter. But the couple split in 1971 and Wagner reunited with Natalie remarried her after a decade in 1972. The couple then welcomed their only child, Courtney Wagner, in 1974.
But her death changed his life forever. On November 29, 1981, her body was mysteriously found floating in the waters off Santa Catalina Island. She was 43. Natalie was traveling on the family yacht Splendour along with Wagner, the ship’s Captain Dennis Davern and Natalie’s actor-friend Christopher Walken when the incident took place.
After that ill-fated incident, several investigations said Wagner was directly involved in her death. In his memoir, Wagner accepted that he had an argument with Wood before she disappeared. In the autopsy, it was found Wood had bruises on her body and an abrasion on her left cheek. The blood alcohol content was 0.14%, and there were traces of two types of medication in her bloodstream: a motion-sickness pill and a painkiller. If that’s not enough, two witnesses on a boat nearby claimed they heard a woman scream for help at night.
Natalie’s sister Lana Wood suspected Wagner and said in a Fox interview, “I don’t to this day understand why (Wagner) didn’t go to his wife’s side when her body was found floating in the water. She was identified by Dennis Davern, who was the skipper on the boat.”
She publicly confronted Wager in 2016 during a tense showdown. While she didn’t directly call him the criminal, she said, “Well, if there are only two people on the bow of the boat and then suddenly there’s only one, I think that’s a bit suspicious,” and added, “I think that one of them knows exactly what happened.”
Wagner’s daughter, Natasha Gregson Wagner, is all set to reveal intimate details from that night in a new HBO documentary ‘Natalie Wood: What Remains Behind’. “He regrets that she died,” she said, according to a People report. “To me, what the culprit that night was was the alcohol. Had that not been a factor, I think maybe things would have turned out a little differently, but I feel closure about that night.”
Moreover, in her memoir, she said she “had to make peace” with her mother’s death and she wishes “others could do the same”. Shedding light on the documentary, she said, “I’m hoping that with the documentary we can focus on her life. I think if she were alive today, she’d be at the forefront of equal pay for women, she’d be on the forefront fighting for equal rights for the LGBT community. She was so ahead of her time in so many ways.”
In 1982, after Natalie’s death, Wagner started dating actress Jill St John and they got married in 1990. On September 21, 2006, Wagner became a first-time grandfather when Katie Wagner, his daughter with Marshall, gave birth to her son Riley John Wagner-Lewis. Wagner continued acting in films including his role reprisal in ‘Curse of the Pink Panther’, ‘Dragon: The Bruce Lee Story’ and ‘Crazy in Alabama’. His last film credit was in ‘What Happened to Monday’ (2017).
No matter what the truth may be, it has tarnished Wagner’s image irrevocably. If he is guilty, it is a shame that it was never found out and if he is innocent, the joy in his life seems to have been drowned along with his late wife.
The new docuseries ‘Natalie Wood: What Remains Behind: Season 1’ premieres on HBO on May 5 at 9 pm ET.