The Los Angeles coroner has officially changed Natalie Wood’s cause of death to “undetermined,” thus ending three decades of mystery. Right?
And it’s not earth-shattering, either. Simply put, the new official cause of death simply acknowledges that authorities can’t prove that bruises found on Wood’s body were accidental. They can’t prove they were intentional, either. She still drowned to death off the coast of Santa Catalina Island, while she was staying on a yacht with her husband, actor Robert Wagner.
That night actor Christopher Walken was visiting Wood and Wagner. At some point late in the night, Wagner reported Wood missing from the yacht. She was found around dawn, drowned. It appeared she had struggled to get into a dinghy and failed. The bruises on Wood’s body came from her attempts to save herself, according to the original coroner’s report.
That coroner, Thomas Noguchi, was once known as the “coroner of the stars.” The current L.A. coroner, Lakshmanan Sathyavagiswaran, is no stranger to the media either. He did the autopsy on Michael Jackson, and he was a familiar face during the 1994 murder trial of O.J. Simpson (Sathyavagiswaran was on the witness stand for nine days).
Sathyavagiswaran’s change from “drowning” to “drowning and other undetermined factors” still means we don’t know exactly what happened. And saying that you can’t rule out that she wasn’t assaulted only fuels speculation that something malevolent is behind the story. Predictably, many reports have already made the leap from “we can’t say she wasn’t molested” to “the coroner suggests she was assaulted before she died.”
But no, that’s not what the new report means. The new report means “we said we weren’t sure before, but now we’re REALLY not sure.” Look forward to another non-report in about six months. The Natalie Wood “news” this week is as deja vuey as “Lindsay Lohan argues with Cop” or “Lance Armstrong used performance-enhancing drugs.”
To read more about the victim, see the Who2 biography of Natalie Wood.
To find out more about “Coroner to the Stars” Noguchi, read the Who2 feature Autopsy by Noguchi.
(Photos of Natalie Wood come from the LIFE magazine gallery.)