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Why We’re Still Obsessed With Natalie Wood’s Death

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Natalie Wood circa 1979. (NBC Universal)

One of Hollywood's greatest unsolved mysteries just became a little more complicated.

An autopsy report released Monday reveals more about the condition of late actress Natalie Wood's body at the time it was found. The Los Angeles Times reports that the coroner's review of the case noted that Wood displayed several fresh bruises and scratches on her arm, wrist, and neck that she most likely received before drowning in the Pacific Ocean on November 29, 1981.

When Wood died at age 43, she was a major movie star. The brunette beauty had more than 50 roles in film and TV, including 1947's "Miracle on 34th Street," which she starred in at just 8 years old. Later, she made the tricky transition to more adult roles, such as James Dean's gal pal in 1955's "Rebel Without a Cause," the virginal Deanie in 1961's "Splendor in the Grass," and songbird Maria in 1961's "West Side Story." She earned three Best Actress Oscar nominations, for "Rebel," "Splendor," and 1963's "Love With the Proper Stranger" with Steve McQueen. At the time of her death, she was in the middle of filming a sci-fi flick, "Brainstorm," which was eventually released in 1983.

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Wagner and Wood about 1980. (Getty Images)

So Wood was a big deal in Hollywood, and all the more famous for her personal life. She was married to her fellow actor, the handsome Robert Wagner, from 1957 to 1962. But by the end of the decade, she had swapped vows with entertainment agent Richard Gregson, whom she divorced in 1972 – the same year that she remarried ex-husband Wagner! In today's world, she'd regularly be featured on omg!.

How It Happened

Adding to the intrigue of the tragic story is that Wood disappeared under sketchy circumstances. She and Wagner were entertaining Wood's "Brainstorm" co-star and rumored lover, Christopher Walken, on their yacht Splendour off the coast of Catalina Island on Thanksgiving weekend. The trio had dinner and drinks on the island, then retreated to the boat.

The three continued to drink, and Wagner and Walken soon began arguing. In 2008, Wagner told the Times that the fight "concerned how much of one's personal life should be sacrificed in pursuit of one's career." Wagner also said that Wood went to the bathroom and never returned before he and Walken went to bed. The boat sent out a distress signal at around 1:30 a.m., about 90 minutes after the new report estimates that Wood died.

The New Report

Following the tragedy, there were many questions left unanswered regarding Wood’s death, from whether the actress had too much alcohol, to whether someone else played a role in the night's events. In the end, Wood's death was ruled an accident.

But in November 2011, the Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department reopened the case when the Splendour's former captain claimed he heard Wagner and Wood arguing that night. After revisiting the case, the corner changed Wood's official cause of death from "accidental" to "drowning and undetermined factors." (It's important to note that in 2011 a sheriff's spokeswoman said Wagner is not suspected of foul play.)

Sources tell the Times that the sheriff's department doesn't have enough evidence in its ongoing investigation to rule that the death was a homicide at all.

To be continued...

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