"To me, what the culprit that night was was the alcohol," Natasha Gregson Wagner said of her mother's death

By Claudia Harmata
May 04, 2020 11:37 AM

Natasha Gregson Wagner has found closure with the mysterious details of her mother Natalie Wood's death by drowning in 1981.

For the first time since her mother's death, Natasha is opening up about her family's grief and shares intimate details about life with her mom in her new memoir More Than Love and a powerful new HBO documentary Natalie Wood: What Remains Behind (premiering on May 5).

On Monday, Natasha appeared on Good Morning America to discuss the making of the upcoming documentary and the emotions that came with it — including how she felt the moment she talked to her father, Robert Wagner, who had been on the boat the night her mother died.

Mandatory Credit: Photo by Shutterstock (10539700hb)Natasha Gregson Wagner - 'Natalie Wood: What Remains Behind'Deadline Sundance Studio presented by Hyundai, Day 3, Park City, USA - 26 Jan 2020

"It was, you know, my heart was beating a bit, because obviously he and I have spoken about that but never on camera," Natasha said.

On Nov. 29, 1981, when Natasha was just 11 years old, Robert came home and told her and her younger sister Courtney that their mother had died in a drowning accident while the couple, and fellow actor Christopher Walken, were spending time on their boat in the waters off of Catalina Island.

"He regrets that she died," Natasha said of her father.  "To me, what the culprit that night was was the alcohol. Had that not been a factor, I think maybe things would have turned out a little differently, but I feel closure about that night."

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Robert Wagner and Natalie Wood and two of their children, Courtney, left, and Natasha, center

In both the book and film, Natasha examines what happened that night, and how she came to believe that her mother, who had had too much to drink, slipped on the steps of their boat, the Splendour, and fell into the water after trying to tie up a dingy that was banging against the boat.

She writes in her memoir that she “had to make peace" with the fact that she will never know the full details of how her mother died, and she wishes "others could do the same.”

"I’m hoping that with the documentary we can focus on her life," Natasha added while speaking to GMA. "I think if she were alive today, she’d be on the forefront of equal pay for women, she’d be on the forefront fighting for equal right for the LGBT community. She was so ahead of her time in so many ways."

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Part of the reason Natasha also chose to speak out now is to address the years of painful speculation that her father, Wagner, bore some kind of responsibility in her mother's death that night.

“For so many years we were advised to ignore or not talk about it,” says Natasha in the documentary. (Her biological father was Natalie’s second husband, Richard Gregson, and she calls both men her dad.) “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.”

“It’s true,” Wagner, 90, says. “She said that because she knows me and she knows that I never would have done anything to hurt her mother.”

Natalie Wood: What Remains Behind will premiere Tuesday, May 5 at 9 p.m. ET/PT, exclusively on HBO.