Natalie Wood’s Sister on Keeping the Movie Stars Memory Alive

  • Lana Wood (the sister of Natalie Wood) published a memoir about her sister. It dives into the tragic 1981 death.
  • Lana spoke with Insider to offer additional insights on some memoir revelations.
  • Lana expressed her hope that people will follow her lead. “remember [Natalie], not simply as a movie star but as a person, who had a full life.”

Lana Wood now spends more time with her older sister than she did with her. 

It will be 40 year since Natalie Wood, a Hollywood icon, was drowned in Santa Catalina Island’s ocean off Santa Catalina Island during Thanksgiving weekend 1981. Robert, then 43 years old, was sailing with Natalie Wood. [RJ]Wagner, her “Brainstorm” co-star and friend Christopher Walken, and the vessel’s captain Dennis Davern when she disappeared off the back of the boat.

But despite four decades of time passed, speculation surrounding Natalie’s tragic drowning never seems to fade. The case — which was reopened in 2011 and deemed suspicious in 2018 — remains one of Hollywood’s most persistent mysteries. 

Now, Natalie’s younger sister, Lana, is diving back into the infamous unsolved case — and the trenches of her own personal heartbreak — in a new memoir, “Little Sister: My Investigation into Natalie Wood’s Mysterious Death.”

Actress who played a role in the film. “Bond girl”Sean Connery opposite “Diamonds are Forever,”Insider spoke to Lana about the book’s purpose: to clear up the confusion surrounding Natalie’s life. 

Lana, 75, discussed writing the memoir and offered additional insights on some of its new revelations in a telephone interview.

The interview has been edited lightly to increase clarity.

Why and when did you decide to publish this new book? What inspired you to tell this story now?

There was so much that had been said about Natalie. Some things were blatantly false and mean. A lot of fabrications and suppositions. There was so much out there, it was driving me crazy. Then, suddenly, I realized that instead of saying, it was actually happening. “oh that’s nonsense,”Natalie was my support system. Natalie was not being watched. No one was accurately portraying Natalie. They were simply reciting the facts about the night she died. They were saying “well, maybe this happened,”Oder “maybe this happened.”It didn’t. Let’s just look at the facts. I wanted to include the facts as they were found by the detectives, the report of the new coroner, his report. What an eyewitness said, what an earwitness said, and my knowledge about Natalie.

It’s very sweet — well, actually, it wasn’t very sweet — it was nice that Natasha (Natalie’s eldest daughter, Natasha Gregson Wagner) wanted to do a special about Natalie (the 2020 HBO documentary “Natalie Wood: What Remains Behind”However, Natasha is only able to recall what RJ Wagner (Robert Wagner), told her. You should think about this: Natalie was only a child when she died. All these memories are stories that someone told her. I was shocked that she wasn’t a witness to any of it, and that she didn’t have long conversations with her mom as a child, which was very disappointing.

I thought that now was the right time. I’m getting older. I need to act immediately if I have any chance of helping Natalie.

Editor’s Note: Courtney Wagner and Natasha Gregson Wagner have not responded to Insider’s request.

Did it feel difficult or emotionally challenging to revisit some of my most painful memories? 

It was awful. It absolutely tore my heart out. I had to stop, get out of that room and go outside. Many times, I would just stop for a day or two and then not go back. It was awful. It’s heart-wrenching.

Your story has been telling the same story for decades. Natalie’s encounter in person with Kirk DouglasIt was a Hollywood legend. That is what prompted you now to tell the story and confirm what was, for many years, an unrevealed Hollywood rumor. Have you ever feared writing about it, or including it in your article?

Because this is Natalie, it’s not for me. That episode really affected her life. Such things will never go away.

Many people reached out to me when Kirk Douglas died. They wanted me confirm the story or to say something. I refused to because that would have been extremely cold. I refused to say anything out of respect for his family.

Here’s my chance to tell everyone what Natalie went through and how it affected her. You don’t have to be born this way. She had to go through a lot.

Editor’s note. Kirk Douglas, 103, died last year. His son, actor Michael Douglas, made the following statement to the Associated Press through his publicists. “May they both rest in peace.”

You talk about how you saw inaccurate or incomplete versions of Kirk Douglas’ story in print over the years. However, you promised Natalie that you would keep it confidential. Did it prove difficult to find the truth while watching Kirk Douglas live a long and successful career?

It wasn’t, it was obvious. It wasn’t hard. I could see a photograph or a picture, or part of the story. He was dismissive. I will not watch movies or any other type of similar material. It wasn’t about him. 

Kirk Douglas and Natalie Wood

Kirk Douglas and Natalie Wood

John Springer Collection/Silver Screen Collection/Getty Images


Although your mother’s reaction to Kirk Douglas was not the typical mother response, it is clear that you are deeply in love with her. It was difficult for you to reconcile your more difficult memories of your mother and your apparent love for her during the writing process.

It wasn’t difficult. But it was true and something I had to share. My mom was a great example of how I am. I don’t know how anyone is like me. There is no perfect person. Was my mother too concerned about Natalie’s stardom? Absolutely. It was just the way it was. I didn’t feel any pain. I took everything at face value, because it was the truth. 

You detail next to Robert Wagner The way RJ treated Natalie after her deathFrom allegedly “blacklisting”You quit the entertainment industry to refuse to give you details about Natalie’s last night. Was his strange behavior towards you a factor in your conclusion that he was to blame for the death of your sister?

This is what I have believed all my life. Because I was worried about my children and their well-being, I decided not to speak up. I didn’t have any contact with them. It felt selfish. I felt it was better to keep my mouth closed. Perhaps I could see them or speak to them. It was only hope. 

Does this mean that you don’t believe there is any chance of rekindling the relationships with Natalie and her daughters?

This is not what I believe. It would be amazing if there was. If not, it’s just the way it has been for a long time. You know that it’s all fine. I understand their feelings. That’s not how I feel. RJ was the only one they had left. They had no one. I did nothing more than hurt the children by being vehement and pointing fingers back then. Nothing. I had a faint hope that it might have been an accident. I was lying to myself.

Until the detectives came up with what they had found, until I was privileged to read the coroner’s report, and read the old police report and find things like RJ was spoken with after the accident for exactly six minutes — the detectives had to put in the time they began talking to him and then they had to put in the time it ended, and when it was Christopher Walken’s turn: six minutes. Things like this have been haunting me for years.

But, I am very conflicted. I don’t hate RJ. He’s been a friend of mine all my life. I’ve known him since the age of nine. So I don’t hate him. He feels that way, and I am sorry. However, I cannot do anything about it.

Natalie Wood and Robert Wagner pose for a picture.

Robert Wagner and Natalie Wood, his actress wife, at Heathrow Airport in London. Before departing to present the prizes for the Cannes Film Festival.

Photo by PA Images via Getty Images


In the book, you say several times that RJ, Dennis Davern  (the yacht’s captain), and Christopher Walken would have had hours to get their story straight before being questioned by authorities. Although you have made clear your position on RJ, I am curious if you accept any responsibility for the fate of Natalie on Christopher Walken. Does it have a duty?

No. Christopher Walken spoke to the detectives. He did share all that he had seen and all that he knows. But he promised them that they would not divulge anything he had said. They did not tell me, and they kept their word. I was told that they spoke to him and that he had told them all he knew. 

Editor’s Note: Christopher Walken representatives did not respond to Insider’s request for comment.

What are your feelings now that you have published your memoir and other stories about Natalie? Both her life and her death Are they back in the news?

I’m happy because I don’t want Natalie forgotten, and I don’t want people to hold onto absurd tales. It frustrates me when I see things that are so clearly not what Natalie would do or have done. It drives me crazy. And I’m hoping desperately since I laid everything out —Not “I think,” not “perhaps, maybe,” — I laid everything out so that they will see that RJ is responsible for her death. That’s it. He is responsible.

For them to stop blaming or guessing. Also, to remember her not only as a movie star, sondern as a person who lived a full life. These kids were her greatest love. What are these ridiculous statements about suicide? I don’t get it. It is absurd. Is it possible she jumped over a railing Yes, but I doubt it. 26 scrapes and bruises resulted from her falling. It doesn’t seem so. It is just absurd. 

I hope people will see that there is no ulterior motive. RJ is not the object of my motivation. He will never be arrested. My motive is to not have him arrested. He has not spoken to detectives. He has never spoken to them. It’s unlikely that anything will happen. They claim that the district attorney said there is no smoking gun. The head of the homicide division, who held the press conference in which he called RJ a person-of-interest, said that all they knew was that there were two people at the back of this boat. And then, there was one. These are their words and not mine. 

Editor’s note: An Insider request for comment on Lana’s allegations was not answered by a representative of Wagner. The 91 year-old previously denied any wrongdoing in Natalie’s death.

Insider was told by a detective with the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department that Natalie’s murder is still being considered suspicious due to the unanswered questions.

“Her husband at the time, Robert Wagner, is the last known person to be with Ms. Woods [sic] prior to her death, and Investigators would like to interview him,”Detective Ralph Hernandez stated in a statement. “The goal of the investigation is to confirm the truth of how she ended up in the water, thus providing the manner of her death.”

He stated that the case will continue to be open until it is resolved.

Are you able to accept that RJ’s case may never be solved? 

It will, but I don’t think so. I love surprises. I love when things turn out the right way. But, I don’t really know. I just wish that he was able to tell the truth. This is what I want. Tell the truth. I believe he is a coward. Ever. 

What would it look like if Natalie’s case was resolved at some point in your life?

It would encompass all. Natalie would be grateful. Everything. She could relax.

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