Robert Blake, actor acquitted of his wife’s murder, dies at 89

LOS ANGELES (AP) — Robert Blake, the Emmy Award-winning actor who rose from acclaim for his performance to notoriety when he was tried and acquitted in the murder of his wife, died Thursday at age 89.

A statement issued on behalf of his niece, Noreen Austin, said Blake died of heart disease, surrounded by his family at his home in Los Angeles.

Blake, star of the 1970s TV show “Baretta,” once hoped to return but never recovered from the long ordeal that began with the shooting death of his wife, Bonny Lee Bakley, outside a restaurant in Studio City on May 4. , 2001. The story of his strange marriage, the son he had and his violent end was a Hollywood tragedy that took place in court.

Once hailed as one of the greatest actors of his generation, Blake became best known as the center of a real-life murder trial, a story stranger than any in which he starred. Many remembered him not as the stocky, dark-haired star of “Baretta,” but as a white-haired, spectral murder defendant.

In a 2002 interview with The Associated Press while he was jailed awaiting trial, he lamented the change in status with his supporters across the country: “It hurt me because America is the only family I had.”

He insisted that he had not killed his wife, and a jury eventually acquitted him. But a civil jury would find him responsible for his death and order him to pay Bakley’s family $30 million, a ruling that bankrupted him. The daughter he and Bakley had together, Rose Lenore, was raised by other relatives and went years without seeing Blake, until they spoke in 2019. She told People magazine she called him “Robert,” not “Dad.”

It was an ignominious end to a life lived in the spotlight since childhood. As a young man, he starred in the “Our Gang” comedies and acted in a movie classic, “The Treasure of the Sierra Madre.” As an adult, he was praised for his portrayal of real-life assassin Perry Smith in Truman Capote’s best-selling true crime film “In Cold Blood.”

His career peaked with the 1975-78 TV police series, “Baretta.” She played a detective who carried a pet cockatoo on his shoulder and liked costumes. He was typical of his specialty, portraying tough guys with soft hearts, and his signature line, “Don’t do the crime if you can’t do the time,” was often quoted.

Blake won an Emmy in 1975 for his portrayal of Tony Baretta, though behind the scenes, the show was plagued by disputes involving the temperamental star. He earned a reputation as one of the best actors in Hollywood, but one of the hardest to work with. He later admitted to having problems with alcohol and drug addiction in the early years of his life.

In 1993, Blake won another Emmy as the title character in “Judgment Day: the John List Story,” playing a soft-spoken churchgoer who murdered his wife and three children.

Blake’s career had slowed down long before the trial. She made only a handful of screen appearances after the mid-1980s; His last project was David Lynch’s “Lost Highway,” released in 1997. According to his niece, Blake had spent his later years “enjoying jazz music, playing the guitar, reading poetry, and watching a lot of classic Hollywood movies.” “.

He was born as Michael James Gubitosi on September 18, 1933 in Nutley, New Jersey. His father, an Italian immigrant, and his mother, an Italian-American, wanted his three children to succeed in show business. At age 2, Blake was performing with a brother and sister in a family vaudeville act called “The Three Little Hillbillies.”

When his parents moved the family to Los Angeles, his mother found work for the boys as movie extras, and producers plucked little Mickey Gubitosi out of the crowd and cast him in the “Our Gang” comedies. He appeared on the series for five years and changed his name to Bobby Blake.

He continued to work with Hollywood legends, playing the young John Garfield in 1946’s “Humoresque” and the boy who sells Humphrey Bogart a crucial lottery ticket in the Oscar-winning “Treasure of the Sierra Madre.”

In adulthood, he landed serious roles in movies. Her biggest breakthrough was in 1967 with “In Cold Blood.” Later there were movies like “Tell Them Willie Boy is Here” and “Electra Glide in Blue”.

In 1961, Blake and actress Sondra Kerr were married and had two children, Noah and Delinah. They divorced in 1983.

His fateful meeting with Bakley occurred in 1999 at a jazz club where he went to escape loneliness.

“Here I was, 67 or 68 years old. My life was on hold. My career was at a standstill,” he said in the AP interview. “I had been alone for a long time.”

He said he had no reason to dislike Bakley: “She took me out of the stands and back into the arena. She had something to live for.”

When Bakley gave birth to a girl, she named Christian Brando, son of Marlon, as the father. But the DNA tests pointed to Blake.

Blake first saw the girl, named Rosie, when she was two months old and she became the center of his life. She married Bakley for the child.

“Rosie is my blood. Rosie is calling me,” he said. “I have no doubt that Rosie and I are going to walk into the sunset together.”

Prosecutors would claim that he planned to kill Bakley to gain sole custody of the baby and tried to hire hitmen for the job. But the evidence was mixed and a jury rejected that theory.

On his last night alive, Blake and his wife of 44 years dined at a neighborhood restaurant, Vitello’s. He claimed he was shot from her when he left her in the car and returned to the restaurant to retrieve a firearm he had inadvertently left behind her. The police were initially baffled, and Blake was not arrested until a year after the crime occurred.

Once a wealthy man, he spent millions defending himself and ended up living on social security and a pension from the Screen Actor’s Guild.

In a 2006 interview with the AP a year after his acquittal, Blake said he hoped to restart his career.

“I would like to give my best performance,” he said. “I’d like to leave a legacy for Rosie of who I am. I’m not ready for a dog and a fishing pole yet. I’d like to go to bed every night desperate to wake up every morning and create some magic.” “


Deutsch, the lead writer for this obituary, retired from The Associated Press in 2014.

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