Natalie Wood (born Natalia Nikolaevna Zakharenko; July 20, 1938 – November 29, 1981) was an American actress who began her career in film as a child actor and successfully transitioned to young adult roles. She was the recipient of four Golden Globes, and three Academy Award nominations.
Born in San Francisco to Russian immigrant parents, Wood began her acting career at age 4 and was given a co-starring role at age 8 in Miracle on 34th Street (1947). As a teenager, she earned a nomination for the Academy Award for Best Supporting Actress for her performance in Rebel Without a Cause (1955), followed by a role in John Ford’s The Searchers (1956). Wood starred in the musical films West Side Story (1961) and Gypsy (1962), and she received nominations for the Academy Award for Best Actress for her performances in Splendor in the Grass (1961) and Love with the Proper Stranger (1963). Her career continued with films such as Sex and the Single Girl (1964), Inside Daisy Clover (1964), and Bob & Carol & Ted & Alice (1969).
During the 1970s, Wood began a hiatus from film and had a child with husband Robert Wagner, whom she had previously married and divorced. Wagner and Wood remarried after she divorced her second husband. She acted in only two feature films throughout the decade, but appeared slightly more often in television productions, including a remake of the film From Here to Eternity (1979) for which she received a Golden Globe Award. Wood’s films represented a “coming of age” for her and for Hollywood films in general. Critics have suggested that her cinematic career represents a portrait of modern American womanhood in transition, as she was one of the few to take both child roles and those of middle-aged characters.
Wood drowned off Santa Catalina Island on November 29, 1981, at age 43, during a holiday break from the production of Brainstorm (1983) with Christopher Walken. The events surrounding her death have been the subject of conflicting witness statements, prompting the Los Angeles County Sheriff’s Department, under the instruction of the coroner’s office, to list her cause of death as “drowning and other undetermined factors” in 2012. In 2018, Wagner was named as a person of interest in the ongoing investigation into Wood’s death.