Robert Wagner Breaks His Silence About Natalie Wood's Death: 'We Were All So Shattered'

04/13/2016 AT 08:30 AM EDT

Natalie Wood's daughter Natasha is opening up about the private side of the beloved mother she lost in a tragic boating accident. Subscribe now for the exclusive untold story, only in PEOPLE.

Thirty-five years after Natalie Wood drowned while sailing off Catalina Island, her former husband Robert Wagner 86, speaks to PEOPLE in this week's cover story about his family's heartbreak and his close bond with his stepdaughter, Natasha Gregson Wagner.

"We were all so shattered by the loss, and we were hanging on to each other," Wagner tells PEOPLE. "My bond with Natasha is very, very intense. We've hung onto each other through the years and she means the world to me."





After Natalie's death on November 29, 1981, Wagner and Natasha's father, Natalie's second husband Richard Gregson, decided that Wagner would continue to raise Natasha, her younger sister, Courtney (his daughter with Wood) and his older daughter Katie (with second wife Marion Marshall). "They'd always been together," he notes. "So Richard [Gregson], her birth father, and I sat down and came to the conclusion that we felt it was best that Natasha stay with her sisters and be raised in the environment that she'd been raised in up to that point – to the point of Natalie leaving us."

In this week's PEOPLE, Natasha speaks movingly about the years of sadness that followed her mother's death. As Wagner recalls, "You just take it moment by moment and hope that it gets better and more light comes into her life. As an adult and as a man, I could not climb into her head. All you can do is truly love and care for them."

For much more on Natalie Wood, including never-before-seen family photos, and pick up this week's issue of PEOPLE.

Robert Wagner Breaks His Silence About Natalie Wood's Death: 'We Were All So Shattered'| Death, People Scoop, Movie News, Natalie Wood, Robert Wagner

Robert Wagner, Natalie Wood and young Natasha.

Howard / Evening News / REX / Shutterstock



Looking back, Wagner says, "Natasha worked very hard on her life. She was really concerned about being happy and going on. She was trying to make her life be something."

He's proud of the new fragrance called Natalie that Natasha and her sister Courtney have created, inspired by their mother's signature scent, Jungle Gardenia.

"I think it's wonderful," says Wagner. "She really has a passion for this and it's not just a venture. It's out of love and out of caring."

Robert Wagner Breaks His Silence About Natalie Wood's Death: 'We Were All So Shattered'| Death, People Scoop, Movie News, Natalie Wood, Robert Wagner

Natalie Wood on the cover of this week's PEOPLE magazine

"Her mother was a very, very special and loving and caring person," he says of Natalie. "She meant so much to Natasha. They were so close and she wants to share that."

Wagner, who wed actress Jill St. John in 1990, remains very close to Natasha, 45, who has a 3-year-old daughter, Clover, with her husband Barry Watson. (She's also stepmom to Watson's two boys from his first marriage.) "Just watching her grow up has been amazing," Wagner says. "Sometimes I see the way she moves or the way she walks or laughs and she just reminds me of Natalie," he says. "It’s not a continuous thing, just a moment, a turn, her hair, some kind of look. It's quite extraordinary."
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