Song of the Day: Hollywood in Music (Day Five). “Natalie Wood Is No Longer Afraid, Now She Is Gone Under The Waves”.

“I’ve been terrified of water and yet it seems I’m forced to go into it on every movie that I make”

– Natalie Wood.

Following yesterday’s post about the death of James Dean and Suede’s ethereal James Dean death song, Daddy’s Speeding, today’s post is about the death of Dean’s Rebel Without A Cause co-star Natalie Wood.

Firstly, before I talk about the death of Natalie Wood and introduce today’s Song of the Day, there has been a longstanding conspiracy theory that Rebel Without A Cause was cursed.  In 1968, Nick Adams, who played Chick in the film was found dead in the bedroom of his house.  The actor was fully clothed, there were no signs of forced entry and the telephone, less than two feet from his body, was in full working order.  The autopsy concluded that the cause was accidental suicide.  Paraldehyde, a drug used to battle alcoholism, was found in his organs, mixed with sedatives and various other drugs.  However, no prescription bottle was found at the scene and there were no needle marks on Adams’s body.

Sal Mineo, who played Plato in the film, was stabbed to death in his West Hollywood home in 1976.  In the late 1960’s, Mineo became one of the first major Hollywood actors to publicly come out as gay.  Mineo was killed by a pizza delivery man, Lionel Ray Williams.  It is suspected that Mineo was killed because of his sexual orientation.  However, Williams denied knowing who Mineo was.   In the light of various reports that James Dean was also either gay or bisexual, there have been many conspiracy theories that Dean’s death was not an accident.

In 1981, during the filming of Brainstorm, Natalie Wood drowned whilst on a weekend boat trip to Santa Catalina Island, California, with her husband Rober Wagner, Brainstorm co-star Christopher Walken and the boat’s captain, Dennis Davern.  There is a certain amount of mystery surrounding Natalie Wood’s drowning because nobody admitted to seeing how she entered the water.  Wood’s body was discovered by authorities on November 29, 1981, one mile away from the boat.  A small inflatable dinghy was found close by.  Wagner told the inquest that when he went to bed, Wood was not there.  The autopsy revealed that Wood had bruises on her body and arms and an abrasion on her left cheek.  Wagner has since said that he had had a fight with Wood before she had disappeared.  The autopsy also discovered that Wood’s alcohol level was 0.14% and there were traces of a motion-sickness pill and a painkiller in her bloodstream, which increase the effects of alcohol.  Her death was ruled to be an accident by drowning and hypothermia.  The coroner suggested that Wood had been drinking and may have slipped whilst trying to climb back into the dinghy.

The case into Natalie Wood’s death was reopened in November 2011 following revelations that the captain of the boat, Dennis Davern, had lied to the police during the initial investigation and that Wood and Wagner had had a fight on the evening of Natalie Wood’s death.  He also alleged that Robert Wagner was responsible for her death and that Wagner had even said, “Leave her there, teach her a lesson” whilst she was in the water.  Following this investigation, Wood’s cause of death was changed to “drowning and other undetermined factors”.  A statement was also added to Wood’s death certificate saying that the circumstances of how Wood ended up in the water are “not clearly established”.  The coroner’s office has been instructed by detectives not to discuss or comment on the case.

Today’s Song of the Day is Natalie Wood by The Handsome Family, from their 2002 outtakes album, Smothered and Covered.  Natalie Wood is The Handsome Family’s dark and slightly unnerving but loving tribute song to the actress.  The song centres around Natalie Wood’s death and alludes heavily to reports over the years that she was in fact terrified of water (“Natalie Wood is no longer afraid, now she is gone under the waves”).  In 2011, Natalie Wood’s sister, Lana Wood told TMZ:

“None of it makes sense to me simply because Natalie HATED the water.  HATED IT.  Had a great fear of it, didn’t go into her own swimming pool at home, didn’t want to go.  Dark water goes all the way back to, you know, our darling sweet Mum, who used to tell Natalie that she would die by drowning.  And dark water.  That’s something that goes back to when I was a kid, I heard my mother say that and it gave Natalie a great fear of water”.