Ambitious and beautiful, a child actress who grew up to adult success, Natalie Wood made headlines even in death. She is certain to have drowned, but the events leading up to her drowning have been a source of speculation since she died Thanksgiving weekend in 1981 at the age of 43.
Now, 30 years later, and almost a year after the LA County coroner reopened her case, her official cause of death has been amended, from accidental death by drowning and hypothermia, to "drowning and other undetermined factors."
The (known) facts are these: Wood was on a boat with her husband, Richard Wagner, off the coast of Southern California. Two other people, actor Christopher Walken and the boat's captain Dennis Davern were also there. Sometime that night, Wood went overboard, and died--according to the coroner by drowning and hypothermia. She had a blood alcohol level of .14 and painkillers and sea sickness medications in her system. Her body was bruised, and Wagner admitted they had fought earlier that night, but had made up. Wagner is not considered a suspect.
Wood's death, however, is far from the only mysterious Hollywood ending. Rounding out the top 10, here are the deaths that inspired the most suspicion and doubt over what happened and why--and who was responsible.
2. Marilyn Monroe--Improbable suicide
As troubled as she was admired, Marilyn, nee Norma Jean, had a pill problem. She was discovered at home around midnight after overdosing earlier in the evening of August 4, 1962. Her autopsy found high levels of several drugs and her body was covered in minor bruising. Her death was ruled "acute barbiturate poisoning," and as "probable suicide." But theories both of murder (no charges ever filed) and accidental overdose have persisted.
In July, a check dated the day Monroe died, was auctioned off. Monroe purchased a white chest of drawers for $228.80, behavior "consistent with someone who is not suicidal."
3. Michael Jackson--Foul treatment
The King of Pop's 2009 death was--and still is--as much of a circus as his later life turned out to be. The LA County Coroner determined that, the morning of June 25, he suffered respiratory arrest caused by a lethal dose of the drugs propofol and lorazepam. His personal physician, Conrad Murray, discovered Jackson in bed, not breathing, and tried to administer CPR. Murray was convicted of involuntary manslaughter, but allegations (official and otherwise) of his indulging or even encouraging Jackson's drug dependencies.
4. Jeff Buckley--Sometimes it's really an accident
On May 29, 1997, Buckley and his band were in Memphis, working on new material. Buckley went for a swim in a familiar waterway, a channel of the Mississippi river, fully clothed and singing a Led Zepplin tune. He vanished, and his body was spotted six days later. No drugs or alcohol were in his system, and his death was ruled an accidental drowning, even though his risk factors for drowning were quite low.
5 and 6. Tupac Shakur and Christopher Wallace--A notorious rap rivalry
The most notorious (like that joke's never been made before) hip hop rivalry left the two stars in the middle dead in shootings months apart. West Coast-based Tupac was shot five times in November of 2004, and blamed rappers from New York, most notably, Sean (Puff Daddy, P. Diddy or just Diddy) Combs and Christopher Wallace (known as Biggie Smalls or Notorious B.I.G.). On September 7, 1996, Tupac was shot four times while sitting at a stoplight in Las Vegas. He died six days later, and no one knows for sure who shot him--but many at the time suspected Biggie was involved.
Six months later, in Los Angeles, Wallace left the Soul Train awards with his entourage and was shot four times in the chest while stopped at a red light, dead in a half an hour. Similarities between his shooting and Shakur's raised eyebrows, leading to a theory that Wallace's murder was in revenge of Shakur's. Both remain unsolved.
7 and 8. Bruce Lee, Bandon Lee--Father-son tragedies
He may have been only human, but Bruce Lee seemed invincible. But in May of 1973, he was treated for cerebral edema, which caused seizures and headaches. Two months later, on July 20, Lee was due to have dinner with actor George Lazenby in Hong Kong, and when he didn't show up, he was discovered unresponsive. An autopsy found his brain swollen, and his demise attributed to "death by misadventure." While some conspiracy theorists have suggested Lee was murdered, perhaps he simply had one too many blows to the head.
Tragically, Lee's son Brandon Lee, also an actor and martial artist, passed away at too young an age. On March 31, 1993, at just 28 years old, Brandon was on the set of the film "The Crow" when a prop gun was fired at him. It was supposed to be loaded with only blanks, but a fragment of a real bullet was in the barrel, and it was not properly checked by the prop master. He was shot in the abdomen and died at the hospital a few hours later.
9. Rolling Stones guitarist Brian Jones--Sinking Stone
The founding guitarist of the Rolling Stones, Brian Jones was discovered face-down at the bottom of his pool on July 2, 1969. The circumstances--regular drug and alcohol use, his contentious split with his band less than a month before--roused suspicions of suicide. A supposed death-bed confession suggested the possibility of murder. But the Coroner said "death by misadventure" (accidental drowning helped along by drug and alcohol use), and that was that. His case was reviewed by police in 2009, but they declined to reopen an investigation.
10. Heath Ledger--Method acting is no joke
On January 22, 2008, there were still a few months to go before The Dark Knight was to be released, but Ledger's portrayal of the Joker was going to be special. He described to the press his methodology for what would be his final completed film role: "I sat around in a hotel room in London for about a month, locked myself away, formed a little diary and experimented with voices – it was important to try to find a somewhat iconic voice and laugh. I ended up landing more in the realm of a psychopath – someone with very little to no conscience towards his acts." After he was discovered dead in his apartment, the overdose on a lethal mixture of multiple prescription drugs was ruled an accidental death. But the official report didn't stop the speculation that his method acting process--how deep Ledger had to go to find his characters--may have damaged his psyche. The medications he took were commonly used to treat insomnia, anxiety, and depression.
There are plenty more (wilder) conspiracy theories--from Elvis to JFK--but that's for another day.