Liz Smith: Rest In Peace? Not for Natalie, Diana or Marilyn.

“THE DEATH of a beautiful woman is, unquestionably, the most poetic subject in the world,” wrote Edgar Allan Poe.

WELL, POETRY is in full bloom this hot summer, as the deaths of Natalie Wood, Princess Diana and — but of course! — Marilyn Monroe — are once again the topic of gossip, rumor and perhaps even some poetry.

Natalie Wood, the exquisite child actress turned even more exquisite adult star, died in 1981. The actress, always fearful of the water, somehow fell from her and husband Robert Wagner’s yacht, and drowned off Catalina Island. That death rocked Hollywood to its core. Natalie (and Wagner) were still-vibrant survivors of a show biz much altered by changing times and tastes. They entertained with panache. They were beautiful. And so in love, in their second marriage. Wood was branching out to try her hand at stage work, encouraged by the success of her friend and idol, Elizabeth Taylor. 

There was always an element of mystery surrounding Natalie’s death, conflicting stories, salacious speculation. But after a few weeks of headlines, the story vanished from the front pages. From time to time, the terrible tale would resurface but always faded. This year, however, the L.A. police decided to “reopen” the case. Not surprisingly, this action appeared to have been sparked by a new book about Wood.

Most everybody predicted nothing would come of this, and nothing did. The police announced several weeks later that no new evidence had been found and the case was closed. Not quite. Last week, the cops piped up again. The investigation was still open, and Wood’s death was now classified as “undetermined.” Neither accident or homicide. They hastened to add that Robert Wagner was “not a suspect.”

Good grief, let it rest. 30 years have gone by. It was a horrible accident/incident. This is agony for Natalie’s two daughters one of whom has some serious issues. Nothing will bring her back.

PRINCESS DIANA died 15 years ago next month, age 36, in a tunnel in Paris, fleeing paparazzi. Her lover, Dodi Fayed and the driver of the speeding car, were also killed.

Initially, the photographers pursuing Diana and Dodi were blamed, and then the driver, Henri Paul, who was quite drunk. But soon enough a conspiracy thread revealed itself, mostly through the efforts of Dodi’s grief-stricken fatherMohamed Al-Fayed — it was his security team that appeared to have dropped the ball. Unwilling to accept this, Al-Fayed insisted Diana and Dodi had been assassinated by the British secret service, to prevent Diana from marrying the Muslim Dodi, which would have exposed the future heir to the throne, William to that religion.  Diana, something of a paranoid, had often expressed herself fearful of the royal family — after she had rocked it to its foundation — so her statements (and letters) helped fan the flames.

A new documentary about the terrible end of Diana and Dodi, titled Unlawful Killing was supposed to debut next month. It was financed by Al-Fayed. But now, it appears to have been shelved, permanently. The producers were unable to secure insurance against almost inevitable lawsuits that would occur. Distributors would not handle the film without protection. I don’t see Mohamed Al-Fayed defeated in this. Somehow, some way, Unlawful Killing will be seen.

AND NOW to the most alive dead woman of our time — Miss Monroe. She passed on August 4th or 5th 1962. Initially, she was pronounced a “probable suicide” and most people accepted that. She was a troubled woman, her career was shaky; she was 36. (In 1962, 36 was not what it is today, or what it was when Princess Diana died. In ’62, Monroe was “middle-aged” by Hollywood standards.)

But, as with Natalie and Diana, there were always issues in Monroe’s death — time discrepancies, varying accounts from this or that intimate. But at the time, her suicide — or an accidental overdose — was pretty much accepted. It fit her image — the tragic Cinderella. However, as the years rolled on, and more came to light about Marilyn’s involvement with John and Robert Kennedy, conspiracy theorists began to weave at least a dozen tales of Monroe being murdered, for one reason or another.

The cast of characters became a Marx Brothers movie of chaotic assassins, wire-tapping, red diaries, tell-all press conferences and the kitchen sink. Today, almost nobody accepts Monroe as a suicide. The very idea than she might have had a sudden depression and attempted to end her pain — as she had several times in the past — is utterly dismissed.

Last week, a check Monroe wrote out a day before she died was put up for auction. It was also “analyzed.” The purchase was for a chest of drawers for her new home in Brentwood. A forensic psychologist chimed in and insisted this was proof positive Monroe was not “planning to commit suicide.” Well, gee. Nobody ever said she was planning it. If that had been the case she certainly would have had a touch up to her roots, not to mention a manicure and pedicure. (These things were noted by the police who first saw her body.)

Suicide often just “happens” to people who struggle with depression, and who also have an inordinate amount of medication handy, as the chronically sleepless Marilyn did.  But the “she was murdered” posse are pleased with one more notch on their side.

Marilyn’s moods were reported mercurial the last day of her life, as they had been most of the days of her life. We will simply never know what happened on that hot August night in Brentwood. Period.

But I think even Marilyn herself might say, in that soft, girlish voice, “Oh, come on now, enough. I’m dead. I’d much rather you talk about The Prince and the Showgirl. That’s still alive.”

Featured photo: Robert Wagner and Natalie Wood, 1972. AP Photo.

This column originally appeared on on 7/10/12

2 Responses so far.

  1. avatar Baby Snooks says:

    I don’t think Marilyn Monroe killed herself but I also think this “forensic psychologist” should give up his day job. Quite a few people who suffer from depression, as you point out, suddenly and inexplicably reach for the gun or the pills. I guess in the end none of us will ever really know.  I guess it doesn’t matter. Tragedy is tragedy. The cameras of Hollywood whirr and whiz and we create the myths. And what is myth without tragedy?  We can’t have it both ways. There are no happy endings for the gods and goddesses it seems. We put them on their pedestals. And then push them off perhaps to see if they can climb back up. And love it when they fall off all on their own. The schadenfreude.  In a way we murder them all. Slowly. But we murder them just the same. How dare they attempt to be human? Envy is a poisonous thing. For the person who envies. And for the person who is envied.  In reality we don’t really miss any of them.  We miss the myths. 

  2. avatar Belinda Joy says:

    Liz. a big part of me agrees with you on some level. Let the dead…..die.  Let them lay.

    But another part of me reads the constant rehashing of every aspect of these ladies lives and deaths as beautiful to a certain degree. When I die, I am 100% positive my name will not be mentioned and read about by millions. Those speculating about my demise, who I was, how much I am missed…..nope…not gonna happen. 🙂

    However, for these ladies because they were icons, we still cling to our memories of them and the abrupt manner in which each died. It is almost as if it is unreal. So I understand how and why so many people are trying to make sense out of the seemingly senseless loss of each of these women. I even understand how so many people are trying to make a profit off of their deaths. Heck, look at what happened in the death of Michael Jackson. When he was alive we all knew he was a disturbed man with MANY demons and was literally crying out for help. Yet no one did anything. His life was filled with “Yes men and women” that told him what he wanted to hear instead of what he needed to hear.

    The moment he died, a hundred people came out of the woodwork claiming to be one of his “closest friends” telling tales out of school, claiming to know the real Michael and attempting to make a profit off his legacy. It’s what certain people do. It’s distasteful to me, but it is what some people that have a vulture mentality do. Such is the case for those attempting to exploit the deaths of these beautiful women.