Natalie Wood Death Mystery: Exploring the ‘Rebel Without a Cause’ Curse

 @MarkJohansonIBT
on November 18 2011 11:16 AM

The mysterious death of Natalie Wood is one of Hollywood's most alluring unsolved mysteries. Found in her nightgown in the ocean off the California coast in 1981, the case rocked the world and has remained an irksome puzzle ever since.

There have been countless first-hand accounts of the fight-riddled night, several tell-all books, and even a TV movie dedicated to the case, but the shadowy circumstances surrounding her late night death remain allusive.

Almost thirty years to the date, news of the case reopening recalls an intriguing Hollywood anomaly, the Rebel Without a Cause curse.

Rebel was the Catcher in the Rye of the 1950s film world - a seminal coming of age tale of confused middle-class teenagers trapped in suburban malaise.

Starring two of Hollywood's hottest actors, James Dean and Natalie Wood, Rebel went on to define the area.

The film's staggering success may, in part, relate to the fate of its budding stars.

Warner Bros. released Rebel Without a Cause less than one month after James Dean crashed his Porsche 550 Spyder on a California highway. Dean died at the scene.

Ironically, just before his death, Dean did a TV spot about driving safety:

He was supposed to say The life you save may be your own, but instead muttered, The life you save may be mine.

The young actor saw just one of his films in the theaters before his death, East of Eden. His other pictures as well as his academy award nomination came posthumously.

The release of Rebel Without a Cause weeks after his untimely demise catapulted the 24-year-old to cult stats. Dean, forever frozen as the talented, misunderstood, rebellious youth, remains an enduring symbol of teenage angst.

Nick Adams, one of Dean's best friends, Wood's one time lover, and their Rebel cast mate, lost his life a little over ten years later.

In February 1968, Erwin Roeder, Adams' lawyer friend, found his dead body in a bedroom of his house. Adams was fully clothed, there were no signs of forced entry and a working telephone was less than two feet away from his body.

An autopsy found paraldehyde in his organs, mixed with sedatives and other drugs - enough to cause instant unconsciousness. This drug is used to battle alcoholism, but Adams was not a known drinker. No prescription bottle was found at the scene and no needle mark appeared on his skin. The death was deemed an accidental suicide, but the case remains a mystery.

Less than 10 years after Adams' death, Salvatore Sal Mineo, Jr., the Oscar-nominated Rebel co-star, was stabbed to death in his West Hollywood home.

In the late 1960's, Mineo became one of the first major actors in Hollywood to publicly acknowledge his homosexuality. Some speculate that the murderous pizza deliveryman, Lionel Ray Williams, killed Mineo because of his sexual orientation, however Williams has denied knowing who Mineo was.

In 1981, Natalie Wood became the last member of the cast to fall prey to the Rebel Without a Cause curse.

Wood drowned after spending several hours drinking on California's Catalina Island and on the yacht with her actor husband Robert Wagner, fellow actor Christopher Walken, and the ship's captain, Dennis Davern.

The circumstances of her death have long been classified as a tragic accident. Yet, on Thursday, homicide detectives - quite unexpectedly --decided to re-open the case.

Her untimely death sealed Rebel's fate as a cult classic and left many questioning how all the stars of one of America's most treasured films could perish under such tragic and mysterious circumstances.

Share this article