“West Side Story'”s“ ”Russ Tamblyn Still Believes There Is 'More to the Story' of Costar Natalie Wood's Drowning

In his new memoir 'Dancing on the Edge,' Tamblyn recalls his friendship with Wood, her first marriage to Robert Wagner, the 'tragedy' of her death and more

<p>Jack Mitchell/Getty, Jon Kopaloff/Getty</p> Natalie Wood in 1979; Russ Tamblyn in Los Angeles on April 14, 2023

Jack Mitchell/Getty, Jon Kopaloff/Getty

Natalie Wood in 1979; Russ Tamblyn in Los Angeles on April 14, 2023

Russ Tamblyn is reflecting on his friend and West Side Story costar Natalie Wood and the questions surrounding her death.

As the actor and retired acrobatic dancer writes in his newly released memoir, Dancing on the Edge, he was "shocked" to learn of the November 1981 "tragedy" in which Wood mysteriously drowned at age 43.

"I will always believe there is more to the story of what happened to her the night she drowned," Tamblyn, 89, writes in the book. "I was no stranger to grief by this point, but my experience didn't make the loss any easier, and I was brought low for a time."

Tamblyn said that while he and Wood "hadn't kept in close touch" after he left Hollywood for a time to focus on fine arts in Topanga Canyon, "she had remained like a sister to me" since they'd starred together in West Side Story 20 years earlier.

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<p>Darlene Hammond/Archive Photos/Getty</p> Robert Wagner and Natalie Wood in Beverly Hills, California, circa 1957

Darlene Hammond/Archive Photos/Getty

Robert Wagner and Natalie Wood in Beverly Hills, California, circa 1957

Related: Natalie Wood: A Hollywood Life Cut Short, in Pictures

During that time, in the early '60s, Tamblyn said he and a "melancholy" Wood took a walk on the beach after she had split from then-husband Robert "RJ" Wagner. (The two eventually reconciled, and remarried in 1972.)

"I couldn't help but think back to the time I had seen RJ Wagner lash out at her during our innocent game of 'Truth,' when she had chosen an Academy Award over their marriage in response to my theoretical question," Tamblyn wrote, referring to a game they'd played during a gathering when Wood and Wagner were still together.

According to Tamblyn, Wood told him at the time after Wagner stormed off, " 'I should have said that I could always marry RJ again, but I didn't know if I'd ever get the chance to win another Oscar.' "

Following her breakup from Wagner in 1962, "I had tried to convince her that her personal problems would pass, but I don't think I got through," Tamblyn writes in Dancing on the Edge. "Clearly her issues were deeper and darker than I had known."

<p>Blackstone Publishing</p> Russ Tamblyn's memoir <em>Dancing on the Edge</em> (2024), out now

Blackstone Publishing

Russ Tamblyn's memoir Dancing on the Edge (2024), out now

Wood died on Nov. 29, 1981, off of Catalina Island in California while on a boat trip, accompanied by husband Wagner and actor Christopher Walken, with whom she was costarring in a film.

At the time, her death was classified as an accidental drowning. The case was reopened in 2011 and then, in 2022, the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department told Page Six that it "remains an open, unsolved case," with Wagner cleared.

The Rebel Without a Cause actress's death sparked a media frenzy, with some tabloids speculating that Wagner, now 94, was involved in the incident. In a 2020 HBO documentary about the actress, Wood's daughter with her second husband Richard Gregson, Natasha Gregson Wagner, addressed the speculation.

“For so many years we were advised to ignore or not talk about it,” said Natasha. "But enough is enough. I know that if my mom had been in any kind of distress, he would have given his life for her.”

Rolls Press/Popperfoto/Getty Natalie Wood circa 1960
Rolls Press/Popperfoto/Getty Natalie Wood circa 1960

Related: Robert Wagner Says Daughter Natasha 'Knows I Never Would Have Done Anything to Hurt Her Mother'  

“It’s true,” her father said in the documentary. “She said that because she knows me and she knows that I never would have done anything to hurt her mother.”

In the years that followed, questions surrounding what happened that night eclipsed much of Wood's story, her life and her body of work.

Natasha spoke to PEOPLE in 2021 about her mother's legacy and death.

"I was 11 when my mother died, and this year I'll be 51," she said at the time. "You can be 50 and still miss your mom."

Dancing on the Edge is available now wherever books are sold.

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