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An intoxicated Natalie Wood apparently slipped while trying to...

By VERNON SCOTT, UPI Hollywood Reporter

LOS ANGELES -- An intoxicated Natalie Wood apparently slipped while trying to board a small dinghy following an argument on her yacht and drowned in a panic, the county coroner said Monday.

'There is no evidence of foul play or any cause of death other than accidental drowning,' coroner Thomas Noguchi said following an autopsy.

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Noguchi said Miss Wood left the boat anchored off Santa Catalina Island following an argument between her husband, actor Robert Wagner, and actor friend Christopher Walken.

The coroner said it was 'not my impression' that the argument had become violent or that Miss Wood was personally involved.

He also disclosed that the movie star's blood alcohol level at the time of her death was .14 and said her intoxication was 'one of the factors involved in the fact that she was not able to respond to the emergency.'

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Noguchi said several prescription drugs were found on the yatch, including sleeping pills and Darvon and Dalomine -- both depressant pain killers. He said further toxicological tests, to be completed in about two days, would be performed to determine if the actress had any drugs in her system when she died.

The coroner Miss Wood had untied the dinghy before she tried to climb into it and said she scraped her left cheek and possibly banged her head in the fall. He said it was also 'quite possible' that after she hit the water and bumped her head, she panicked in the dark and cold water.

He said the outboard engine on the inflatable craft had not been started.

The actress 'tragically perished' when she could not reboard the dinghy or yacht, the coroner said.

Asked if he knew why she was trying to get into the dinghy in the middle of the night, Noguchi replied, 'A person under the influence could perhaps be going for a ride.'

Assistant Coroner Richard Wilson told UPI the evidence indicated the two men were arguingin the stateroom of the yatch and Miss Wood 'decided to get into the dinghy and take off.'

A spokesman for Wagner said later it was a 'general argument' between the two actors and refused further comment.

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George Kirvay, a close personal friend of the couple, said Miss Wood probably got tired of the arguing and apparenty tried to get away.

'I know when R.J. and I would get into long arguments at their home, Natalie would get bored and just wander away,' Kirvay said.

Noguchi said the actress, who expressed a fear of 'dark water' in recent interviews, had slipped on the same step at the rear of the yacht about 7:30 that evening on her way to dinner following some 'recreational drinking' with Wagner and Walken.

In California, the legal level of intoxication is .10.

Asked if he was pursing the investigation, he said, 'I don't intend to drop it.' He said standard toxicology and laboratory tests were still being conducted, but noted that all evidence so far is 'totally consistent' with an accidental drowning.

Miss Wood's body, clad in a blue nightgown, red down jacket and socks, was found shortly after dawn Sunday, floating just beneath the surface about one mile from the boat and 200 yards from the Isthmus of the resort island off the Southern California coast.

The 10-foot inflatable Zodiac dinghy was found beached near the body.

The three-time Oscar nominee had been spending the weekend with Wagner and Walken, with whom she was making the film 'Brainstorm.' They arrived at the island Friday aboard the Wagners' 55-foot yacht, 'Splendour.'

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Family friend and attorney Paul Ziffren said the three went ashore for dinner Saturday night and later returned to the yacht just before midnight.

'Mr. and Mrs. Wagner had dinner last night in a restaurant on the Isthmus, after which they returned to their boat,' Ziffren said.

'While Mr. Wagner was in the cabin, Mrs. Wagner apparently went to their stateroom,' he said. 'When Mr. Wagner went to join her, he found that she was not there and that the dinghy was also gone.

'Since Mrs. Wagner often took the dinghy out alone, Mr. Wagner was not immediately concerned. However, when she did not return in 10 or 15 minutes, Mr. Wagner took his small cruiser and went to look for her. When this proved unsuccessful, he immediately contacted the Coast Guard, who then continued the search.'

The Coast Guard said it was notified of Miss Wood's disappearance at 3:30 a.m. and immediately notified lifeguards, who joined the search. Wagner spent much of the morning aboard the lifeguard patrol boat Baywatch Isthmus.

At 7:45 a.m., a helicopter finally spotted the body and it was brought to the island, where Wagner made positive identification. He then was flown to Los Angeles to join their daughter, Courtney, 7, and Miss Wood's daughter by a previous marriage, Natasha, 11, at their Beverly Hills home.

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Wagner was joined by his friends Elizabeth Taylor and Roddy McDowall.

The death of Miss Wood, who received Oscar nominations for 'Rebel Without a Cause,' 'Splendor in the Grass' and 'Love With a Proper Stranger,' brought expressions of grief throughout the entertainment industry.

Tentative plans were being made for a 'very private' funeral on Wednesday, a family spokesman said.

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