Walken: Went to bed, awoke to learn of Wood death

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LOS ANGELES (AP) - Actor Christopher Walken says he went to bed on a yacht he was on with actress Natalie Wood and Robert Wagner 30 years ago and awoke to learn that she had died.

Walken tells Washington, D.C. sports talk radio station ESPN980 on Friday that there was drinking and shouting on the boat and that then “there was tragedy.”

His comments come as Los Angeles authorities reopened the case of Wood’s 1981 death in the waters off Southern California.

A boat captain said Friday that he lied to authorities about the case and that Wood’s husband, Wagner, was to blame for her death.

Police said Wagner was not a suspect and that they had new information that warranted a reopening the case.

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Associated Press writer Joe White in Bethesda, Md.

THIS IS A BREAKING NEWS UPDATE. Check back soon for further information. AP’s earlier story is below.

A Los Angeles County sheriff’s detective says Robert Wagner is not a suspect in the 1981 death of his wife, actress Natalie Wood.

Lt. John Corina said that new information is substantial enough to take another look at the case. Wood’s body was found floating off a Southern California island as the couple were on a boating excursion. The death was ruled an accidental drowning.

Corina was asked if Wagner is a suspect and the detective said no.

The police news conference comes as a captain of the boat said on national TV Friday that he lied to investigators about Wood’s death and blamed Wagner for her drowning.

The circumstances of her death remain one of Hollywood’s enduring mysteries and continue to create renewed intrigue, with homicide detectives on Thursday unexpectedly re-opening the case that had long been classified as a tragic accident.

On Nov. 29, 1981, Wood drowned after spending several hours drinking on Catalina Island in 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.

It is Davern’s latest attempt to change the official account of what happened in the hours before Wood’s death.

“Was the fight between Natalie Wood and her husband Robert Wagner what ultimately led to her death?” show host David Gregory asked.

“Yes,” Davern replied.

“How so?”

“Like I said, that’s going to be up to the investigators to decide,” the captain said after a long pause.

Davern said he believes Wagner had intentionally kept the investigation into Wood’s death low profile and didn’t do everything he could have done. When Gregory pressed Davern for supporting details, the captain said that was the duty of investigators.

Davern has said for years that the official account of Wood’s disappearance was not what really happened, including in a 1992 appearance on a Geraldo Rivera special and in a 2000 Vanity Fair piece. He also worked with author and friend Marti Rulli on “Goodbye Natalie, Goodbye Splendour,” a book released last year.

Wagner spokesman Alan Nierob said Friday a statement he released Thursday spoke for itself. The statement read: “Although no one in the Wagner family has heard from the LA County Sheriff’s department about this matter, they fully support the efforts of the LA County Sheriff’s Dept. and trust they will evaluate whether any new information relating to the death of Natalie Wood Wagner is valid, and that it comes from a credible source or sources other than those simply trying to profit from the 30 year anniversary of her tragic death.”

Davern denied he was motivated to speak out for profit.

Sheriff’s spokesman Steve Whitmore said Thursday the renewed inquiry was prompted by unspecified new information about Wood’s case. The Los Angeles Times reported that Los Angeles Sheriff Lee Baca said detectives want to talk to Davern and that he had “made comments worthy of exploring.” The paper said the agency had also received information from an unidentified third party.

In the Vanity Fair story, Davern is quoted as saying that Wood and Wagner fought in their cabin before the actress disappeared. Coroner’s officials ruled her death an accidental drowning, perhaps caused by her slipping off the boat while trying to tie down a dinghy.

She was found wearing a flannel nightgown, socks and a red down jacket and Davern identified her body for authorities, according to an autopsy report. Her body had superficial bruises, according to the report, but those were considered consistent with drowning.

Her death sparked tabloid speculation that foul play was involved, but Wagner and Wood’s sister have dismissed any suggestion the actress’ death was anything more than an accident. Coroner’s officials at the time agreed, writing that Wood was “possibly attempting to board the dinghy and had fallen into the water, striking her face.”

Assistant Chief Coroner Ed Winter said the agency hadn’t been asked to do any additional investigation into Wood’s case.

Sheriff’s officials are also hoping for tips from the public that may shed new light on how Wood, who was afraid of being in the water, ended up drowning.

Wood received Academy Award nominations for “Rebel Without a Cause” (supporting) and “Splendor in the Grass” and “Love with the Proper Stranger.” She was 43 when she died. She and Wagner were twice married, first in 1957 before divorcing six years later. They remarried in 1972.

Lana Wood wrote in a biography on her sister, “What happened is that Natalie drank too much that night.”

Wagner, star of the television series “Hart to Hart,” wrote in a 2008 autobiography that he blamed himself for his wife’s death.

He recounted the night of Wood’s disappearance, during which the couple and Walken drank at a restaurant and on the boat. Wood went to the master cabin during an argument between her husband and Walken. The last time Wagner saw his wife, she was fixing her hair at a bathroom vanity and she shut the door.

Wagner wrote that despite various theories about what led Wood to the water, which she feared, it was impossible to know what exactly happened.

“Nobody knows,” he wrote. “There are only two possibilities; either she was trying to get away from the argument, or she was trying to tie the dinghy. But the bottom line is that nobody knows exactly what happened.”

Later in the book, Wagner wrote, “Did I blame myself? If I had been there, I could have done something. But I wasn’t there. I didn’t see her.”

He wrote that he never saw his wife after she died and has never returned to Catalina Island.

Phone and email messages to Walken’s publicist were not returned Thursday. Walken and Wood were co-stars in “Brainstorm,” which was the actress’ final big screen role.

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AP reporter Alicia Rancilio contributed to this report.

Copyright 2014 The Associated Press. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten or redistributed.

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