4 Dark Alternate Theories About Famous Hollywood Deaths

For every famous death, the internet has an alternate, much more entertaining theory about how it really happened. ("Prince was killed for blowing the lid off chemtrails!") But this is hardly an invention of the internet era. The Hollywood rumor mill has been playing this game with celebrity deaths for at least a century. As for whether or not any of these alternate theories are actually plausible, well, you can be the judge.

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4
Natalie Wood Drowned ... Or Was Killed By Her Husband

The Official Story:

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Natalie Wood was Hollywood royalty when she met her demise. The former child star from Miracle On 34th Street had made it big in Rebel Without A Cause and West Side Story, earning her three Oscar nominations by the age of 25. Her on-again/off-again relationship with TV actor Robert Wagner ended in divorce in '62, but their tumultuous love affair reignited in the '70s (into a remarriage, to boot). It wasn't meant to last. In 1981, she vanished while aboard a yacht on a trip to Catalina Island along with Wagner and her Brainstorm co-star Christopher Walken.

Wood had a well-known fear of the water, having been told in her youth by her Russian-born mother that her fate was to drown in "dark water." Her fears were to the point that she avoided her own pool (which seems like an odd investment, but I digress). Wagner's version was that he and Walken had been having a political argument (fucking thanks, Reagan), and Wood, tired of their bickering, went to the stateroom. Later, when he tried to find her, he assumed she'd taken the dinghy out for a spin. He called the Coast Guard and they'd end up finding Wood drowned 100 feet off of Catalina.

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The Hollywood Rumor:

You can already see why this incident cast such a long shadow. Wood's fear of water made the story of her going out in a dinghy seem implausible, the bruises covering her body even moreso. With both Wagner and Walken saying they had no idea what happened, the rumor mill was free to make up whatever scenario sounded right -- that Wagner had assaulted her and thrown her overboard, that she fell off during an argument, that it was just an accident, but one that cast everyone in a poor light, so they claimed she disappeared instead. If you want to believe the worst, you can take your pick.

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While the police didn't blame Wagner, Lana Wood, Natalie's sister, was not convinced. When the boat's captain, Dennis Davern, came forward around the 30th anniversary of the death, both he and Wood stirred up the embers of the long-buried case. Davern outright accused Wagner of shoving Wood overboard. Police investigated, but came to the same conclusions they did years before, that it was an accident. Though it is a bit odd that they changed her death certificate from "accidental drowning" to "undetermined."

3
The Star Of Superman Committed Suicide ... Or Was Murdered By A Lover ... Or A Fixer

The Official Story:

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George Reeves was a middling B-actor when the role of the first television Superman fell into his lap. It leapt up the ratings in a single bound, but Reeves, still attempting to get himself a legit film career, dreaded being recognized more by kids than producers. It's a far cry from today, when every actor with a pulse and a set of dumbbells is jostling for a membership card in the Avengers.

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Before the blue (well, grey) spandex entered his life, he caught the eye of Toni Mannix, wife of notorious MGM "fixer" Eddie Mannix. (Mannix was actually cool with this. They had an open relationship and would all go on dates together.) Toni thus became his sugar mama, buying him watches, cars, and eventually a $12,000 home in Benedict Canyon. But Reeves eventually left her. Here's where you should start hearing ominous music playing in the background.

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Reeves shacked up with Lenore Lemmon, a showgirl who'd reportedly been kicked out of every major East Coast club for her antics (and alleged mob ties). His relationship with Lemmon soured too, and with his career stalled as Supes, Reeves found himself increasingly despondent. On June 16, 1959, he died by suicide. Or so they say.

The Hollywood Rumor:

Reeves' mother and his agent, absent a cash cow, immediately went to the tabloids questioning the suicide angle. In all fairness, the investigation was handled really weirdly. The gun didn't have fingerprints on it, Reeves was laying on top of the spent casings, his body had bruises (though his blood alcohol level of 0.27 meant he could've drunkenly banged into stuff), and the police did no testing for powder burns. They wrapped up the whole thing on the drunken hearsay of Reeves' houseguests. His quick embalming and quicker burial meant no proper autopsy was performed, either.

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The guests, all wasted, gave a halting narrative involving an argument and then hearing the gunshot. They never accounted for the long time they took to call the cops, which would make more sense if the suicide was really a murder. As for the who and why, there is of course the supposedly mobbed-up girlfriend (which would surely have spawned at least one "LIFE GIVES REEVES A LEMMON" headline).

Meanwhile, Eddie Mannix had the means and motive to get revenge on the man who'd shirked his duties as his wife's gigolo. But between the drunken witnesses and incompetent investigation, the whole story became one more Hollywood myth. Weird coda: Reeves' estate left all his belongings to Toni Mannix. About half a century later, the whole thing would get turned into a Ben Affleck movie.

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2
John Huston Ran Over A Showgirl ... Unless It Was Really Clark Gable Behind The Wheel

The Official Story:

In 1933, John Huston was eight years away from being credited with kick-starting noir, mostly known for being a famous actor's son and a rip-roaring drunk. Huston first landed himself an overnighter in jail for smacking a parked car. Then he wrecked Zita Johann's face when he smashed into a palm tree and she into the windshield. Then he hit and killed a dancer. It's enough to make you wonder what kind of lackadaisical asshole was running the California DMV at the time.

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Huston was tootling around when he took a green light on Sunset Blvd. and Brazilian dancer and actress Tosca Roulien ran from between parked cars. The woman bounced off his hood, then his windshield, then finally came to a stop 30 feet away in the street. While a jury exonerated Huston (there was apparently zero tolerance for jaywalkers in those days), the press bayed for blood, and his father suggested he leave for Europe, where he took up a job as a writer for Gaumont Studios.

The Hollywood Rumor:

Hollywood, being the town it is, wasn't keen on this resolution. The story quickly spread that Huston, not a name yet, was actually the fall guy for a much more popular personage: MGM's own Clark Gable. The rumor is that MGM's notorious fixer from the above entry, Eddie Mannix, caught wind of Gable's Sunset Strip fuckaroo and went into overdrive, paying Huston to take the blame and keeping Gable in place as the only dude making absolute bank during the Great Depression.

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Snopes labels the tale false, claiming it's a series of actual facts that have been mixed up and put back together again, Frankenstein-style. The first is that of Gable getting surgery (and therefore accident-like bruises) in '33, Huston's own crash, and finally a Gable wreck in the early '40s that MGM papered over via a story of a driver forcing a totes sober Gable off the road and onto the curb. Being that Gable really was a shitheel in that era, it's easy to see why the rumor stuck. Ironically, Huston would go on to direct Gable's (and Marilyn Monroe's) last film, 1961's The Misfits.

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1
Thomas Ince Died Aboard William Randolph Hearst's Yacht ... Or Was Murdered

The Official Story:

In 1924, there was a party aboard the Oneida, the yacht of newspaper magnate and piss-yellow journalist William Randolph Hearst. The guest list was a who's who of Silent Era Hollywood: actress Marion Davies, Charlie Chaplin and his child-bride Lita Grey, John Barrymore, Elinor Glyn, Louella Parsons (the future gossip columnist being just a lowly Hearst movie reviewer at the time), and the victim. The Mr. Boddy in this ultimate game of celebrity Clue was birthday boy and silent movie magnate Thomas Ince.

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The man, famous for creating the western (as well as modernizing the way studio pictures were wrangled and organized), was among his friends on the ship when he suddenly got a stomach ailment and had a heart attack ... or something? Luckily, the autopsy- wait, there wasn't one. The body was rushed to the crematorium, where it was flash-fried to briquettes.

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The Hollywood Rumor:

Of all the stories on this list, this is truly the "Choose Your Own Adventure" entry. Not only is it nearly a century old at this point, but Hearst seemingly went out of his way to ignite the rumor fires himself. So there were sordid tales of how Ince was actually shot to death, and the bullet wasn't even meant for him, but for Chaplin. Hearst had suspected that Chaplin was a little friendlier than was professional with Davies, and that what he saw aboard his yacht apparently spurred him to grab a gun and go Tramp-hunting.

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Hearst's actions in the aftermath didn't exactly help things. Hiring Parsons to a lifetime contract as his gossip columnist of choice could have been bribing a witness, or simply an experienced newspaper man getting ahead of a scandal (the teetotaler had yacht-fulls of hooch for his Prohibition-era guests). Not as easy to explain is setting up Ince's widow with a huge trust fund. Former Ince partner D.W. Griffith summed it up best: "All you have to do to make Hearst turn white as a ghost is mention Ince's name. There's plenty wrong there, but Hearst is too big to touch."

Andrew McRae has books and eBooks available at Amazon and Barnes and Noble. He can also be found on Instagram, Twitter, and Facebook, as well as writing for Lewtonbus.

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For more, check out How Humans Will Eventually Beat Death - People Watching No. 4:


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