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OTRC: Natalie Wood death investigation: No new evidence, official says

Natalie Wood's grave in Los Angeles. / Natalie Wood appears in a scene from the 1961 movie 'West Side Story.' (flickr.com/photos/16539699@N00/ Mirisch Corporation / Seven Arts Productions)

The death of actress Natalie Wood still appears to be accidental, a Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department official says, some two months after an investigation into the case was reopened.

Wood, who played Maria in the musical film "West Side Story," died at age 43 on Nov. 29, 1981 during a yacht trip near Catalina Island in California with Robert Wagner, her then-husband, and Christopher Walken, who co-starred with her in the sci-fi thriller "Brainstorm." Her death was ruled an accidental drowning.

A Los Angeles County Sheriff's Department detective told reporters on November 18 that new information had surfaced and that investigators would re-examine the case, adding that Wagner, 81, was not a suspect. (See video of the press conference.)

At this point, it is an accidental death," The Los Angeles Times recently quoted William McSweeney, the department's chief of detectives, as saying. "Nothing has been discovered to suggest changing that at this time."

However, McSweeney told the newspaper that detectives are still investigating the case.

The November announcement regarding the reopening of the inquiry was made less than two weeks before the 30th anniversary of Wood's death and just days after the release of the 50th anniversary editions of "West Side Story" DVDs. The detective said the timing was "inconsequential" to the Sheriff's Department," adding: "We're not concerned with the anniversary date."

In the past two months, several witnesses have spoken the press about Wood's death, including a woman who said she was on a nearby boat and heard a female voice telling for help and the lifeguard captain who found the actress' lifeless body in the water.

Wood was born as Natalia Zakharenko in California. She started out as a successful child actress in films such as "Miracle on 34th Street." She later went to star in several films including the 1955 film "Rebel Without a Cause" opposite James Dean and the movie adaptation of "Gypsy." She earned two Oscar nominations for "Splendor in the Grass" in 1961, the same year "West Side Story" was released, and "Love with the Proper Stranger" in 1963.

Wagner, known to younger audiences as the villain "Number Two" in the "Austin Powers" films, married Wood in 1957. They divorced about four years later, then remarried in 1972 and had one child, Courtney. Wood also had another daughter, Natasha, from her marriage to British producers Richard Gregson. Wagner married for the fourth time in 1990.

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