Dennis Davern, the boat captain who was there on the night Hollywood star Natalie Wood died, is speaking out for the first time in four years.
Davern participated in a 12-part podcast titled “Fatal Voyage: The Mysterious Death of Natalie Wood.” His episode airs Friday.
Wood’s body was found floating in the water off Santa Catalina Island on Nov. 29, 1981. She was 43.
“The West Side Story” star was traveling on the family’s yacht Splendour with her husband, Robert Wagner, as well as Davern and Wood’s friend, actor Christopher Walken.
Davern told podcast producers he still vividly remembered meeting the actress and how she avoided water whenever possible.
“She was a very, very, sweet, sweet lady,” he recalled. “We had a little area up in the pilothouse or bridge, whatever you’d like to call it, where you drive the boat. It was a seating area where she would hang out. And she would be doing her needlepoint, and she would do a little sketching.
"I would spend a lot of time with her, actually, up there, because Robert Wagner and [their two girls] Courtney and Natasha, would be… swimming in the ocean. And of course, Natalie, she would never even stick her toes in the water, because number one, it was cold,” added Davern. “And the other thing is, she didn’t like being near water.”
Davern took Wood and Wagner on their Catalina getaways where they seemingly enjoyed their escapades away from Hollywood.
“Well, I can tell you, when I would provision the boat to go to Catalina for a weekend, I would get a lot of wine, maybe a case of Pouilly Fuisse,” he claimed. “We’d have our liquor stocked. We had everything well-stocked. And when we arrived in Catalina, the bottles of wine would open. Drinks were poured. And there was no problem about carrying stuff like that.”
Davern claimed he and Wood quickly became friends.
“We actually started to become each other’s therapists, because I had a girlfriend at the time, and I was… asking her questions, like, ‘What should I do about this?’ ‘What should I do about that?'” said Davern. “And we kind of exchanged conversations a lot with each other. After a while, it was just like we were friends.”
However, Davern insisted there was something about the fateful trip that seemed ominous from the start.
“Natalie called me and said that we were going to take the boat out on Thanksgiving weekend to Catalina,” he explained. “And I told Natalie… ‘The weather isn’t supposed to be very good. I don’t know if you really want to keep those plans.’ And she said, ‘Well, yes, we do.’ And I said, 'OK, I just want to know, because I'm going to start to provision the boat.'
"So, as it got close to going on Thursday, I did all the shopping, and I made a couple more phone calls trying to discourage taking this trip to Catalina, because the weather was supposed to be horrible.”
And while Wood was reportedly terrified of dark water, she refused to change her plans, despite Davern’s warning.
“She insisted,” claimed Davern. “And she said that Christopher Walken was going to be coming. And I said, ‘OK.’ So, the day that we were supposed to be leaving, it was freezing, freezing cold. I mean, anybody in their right mind wouldn’t go away for a weekend. But, they insisted on going. And then we ventured across to Catalina.”
But bad weather wasn’t the only thing on Davern’s mind. He claimed Wagner didn’t hide his insecurity towards Walken, Wood’s co-star in her 1983 posthumous film “Brainstorm.”
“As we start to get underway, RJ [Wagner] wanted to kind of show off a little bit to Christopher Walken,” alleged Davern. “He was trying to be very impressive to Christopher. And I don’t think Christopher really, really cared a whole lot about that, but I think Robert Wagner wanted to show him that, ‘Hey, you know, I’m the man on this boat here.’ At that very, very beginning, I could see a little friction.”
Davern, who believed Wagner may have possibly been jealous of Wood and Walken’s friendship, claimed his behavior only intensified as hours passed. The mood allegedly felt so toxic, Wood wanted out of the getaway.
“… Well, the jealousy started to build so much that Natalie couldn’t take it any longer,” claimed Davern. “I mean, the fighting and everything just started, everything just started to escalate. And before it got out of control, Natalie says, ‘You know, Dennis… Can you take me ashore?’
She says, ‘I can’t be on this boat.’ So, I looked at RJ, and I said, ‘You know, your wife is asking me to get her off this boat, and I feel like I need to, because things aren't looking good here.' So, Natalie and I, we got in the dinghy. Because of the way he was acting. I mean, he was acting so crazy. It was just so totally uncalled for. I mean, she was petrified… I felt so sorry for her. It was a shame.”
Davern alleged Wood was “hysterical” when he took her ashore on Saturday. Seeking refuge from Wagner, Wood allegedly went to a nearby motel and spent Saturday night there. She confided in Davern, who claimed to serve as a bodyguard for the visibly distressed star.
“Of course, nothing went on, which people have asked me,” he said. “But like I said, I was her friend… I have total respect. And Natalie and I, we sat there and we talked, and talked, and talked. I mean, we talked about so many things… She wanted to get off of the island. She wanted to call her sister. She talked about leaving Robert Wagner.
"And so the next morning, Natalie, she wanted to call and see about getting a seaplane. Well, she couldn’t get seaplane, for some reason. And I said, ‘Maybe if we go back to the boat, maybe.’ I’m trying to say, ‘Hey, let’s try to and make this thing work.’
“… I said, ‘Maybe if we go back, and I’ll help you with the breakfast. And maybe we can all continue, and maybe say, ‘Hey, last night was kind of scary,’ or ‘Maybe we all drank too much,’ or something like that. ‘Maybe we can start fresh.’ So she said, ‘OK, maybe we should try it. So we went back to the boat. We did the breakfast, and it was kind of like nothing happened. And it was kind of like, we all knew something happened, but I think we all kind of wanted to start thinking, ‘Hey, let’s try and make this work.’”
On Sunday, she was dead.
Davern previously spoke to “48 Hours” back in 2011 and revealed it was a “tension-filled” weekend that was allegedly fueled by alcohol and Wagner’s jealousy.
While the initial coroner’s report ruled the death as “accidental death by drowning,” the case was reopened in 2011.
That same year, The Hollywood Reporter revealed Davern admitted he previously lied to investigators about the night of Wood’s death. However, the podcast explained Davern has since passed several polygraph tests when asked about his version of events.
It’s also been reported that Davern sold his story to tabloids for money and collaborated on a tell-all book over the years. However, Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Lt. John Corina said in February of this year his version of events “fit.”
“Makes more sense of what happened and is corroborated by other people,” he said.
That same month, the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Office announced Wagner had been named “a person of interest” in the “suspicious” death. The office also confirmed Wood’s drowning was being investigated and that new witnesses had come forward.
A rep for Wagner has declined to comment. He has also refused to talk to officials about Wood’s death since the case was re-opened in 2011.