What Christopher Walken Said About Natalie Wood’s Death (ET Flashback Exclusive)
By Joe Bergren
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Today is the anniversary of one of Hollywood’s most enduring mysteries -- 37 years ago, actress Natalie Wood drowned off Catalina Island, located off the coast of Los Angeles. The past year has reinvigorated interest in the events of Nov. 29, 1981, aided by developments in the police investigation and much-publicized interviews with key players.
In February 2018, the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department revealed that Robert Wagner, Wood’s husband at the time and one of four people onboard their yacht the night she disappeared and later drowned, was now considered a “person of interest.” Wagner spoke with investigators in 1981, and is not a suspect in the death of Wood, although officials believe he was the last person to see her alive. No criminal charges have ever been filed in the incident, and the case remains open, according to the L.A. County Sheriff's Department. ET reached out to Wagner’s representative for comment.
That same month, midway into the Academy Awards broadcast, Christopher Walken, another person on the yacht, made his way to the podium to present an award. His appearance and the Sheriff’s update boosted social media chatter: What does he know?
His account of what happened that weekend is one of the most sought-after perspectives in the tragedy, and Walken rarely talks about the incident. Rarely - but not never. In commemoration of the sad anniversary, we went through the Entertainment Tonight archives to revisit the comments Walken made about Wood’s death two years after the incident.
“If you're a little bit quiet -- I think, maybe, people think you’re mysterious.”
On that ill-fated Thanksgiving weekend in 1981, Walken was a guest aboard The Splendour, named after Wood’s movie, Splendor in the Grass. Walken and Wood were near the end of filming Brainstorm, a sci-fi picture helmed by special effects legend Douglas Trumbull. Also with Wood, Walken and Wagner was Dennis Davern, a frequent hired hand for the boat who has now become a crucial witness for investigators.
Brainstorm ultimately became Wood’s final picture, and it was released in 1983. At that time, ET spoke with Walken about the media coverage that hovered over production after Wood’s death. “They handled it in the only way they could,” he said. “It was a shocking thing.”
Upon being asked whether the real story about Wood’s death has come out, Walken responded: “The real story of her death is that she drowned. And nobody knows how she drowned or what happened. Except her. That's what it is. There is no real story. Nobody will ever know.”
Walken later echoed these feelings to Playboy in 1997. "You hear about things happening to people – they slipin the bathtub, fall down the stairs, step off the curb in London because they think that the cars come the other way – and they die. You feel you want to die making an effort at something; you don’t want to die in some unnecessary way."
Since then, he has remained silent. Walken gave his most recent comments in 2012 -- or rather, comments about not commenting. He appeared on CBS This Morning and rebuffed a question from host Gayle King: “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.”
One of the takeaways from a 48 Hours special, which was produced in 2018 with the cooperation of the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, is that Walken remains one of the most credible witnesses throughout this ordeal; he doesn’t consider himself to be tight-lipped or cryptic. For perspective, it should be remembered that Walken had already maintained an air of mystery about him long before that tragic night off Catalina.
“There's a thing, you know,” he told ET in the same 1983 interview. “If you're a little bit quiet -- I think, maybe, people think you’re mysterious.”
Additional reporting by Joseph Corral and Brendon Geoffrion.
For more on the 2018 developments in Natalie Wood's death, watch the video below: