Robert Blake, actor acquitted in wife’s killing, dies at 89 – National

Robert Blake, actor acquitted in wife’s killing, dies at 89 – National

Robert Blakethe Emmy award-winning performer who became famous for his acting during his trial and acquittal of his wife’s murder, died Thursday at age 89.

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

Blake, star of the 1970s TV show, Barettahad once hoped for a comeback, but he never recovered from the long ordeal that began with the shooting death of his wife, Bonny Lee Bakley, outside a Studio City restaurant on May 4, 2001. The story of their strange marriage, the son did it and its violent end was a Hollywood tragedy played out in court.

Once hailed as one of the best actors of his generation, Blake became more famous as the center of a real-life murder trial, a story even stranger than the one in which he acted. Many remember him not as the gruff, dark-haired star of the Barettabut as a ghostly, white-haired man accused of murder.

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In a 2002 interview with The Associated Press while he was in jail awaiting trial, he lamented his changing status with his fans around the country: “It hurts because America is the only family I have.”

He maintains that he did not kill his wife and the jury acquitted him. But a civil jury found him liable for her death and ordered him to pay Bakley’s family $30 million, a verdict that sent him into bankruptcy. She and Bakley’s daughter together, Rose Lenore, was raised by other relatives and didn’t see Blake for years, until they spoke in 2019. She would tell People magazine that he called her ” Robert,” not “Dad.”

It was an ignominious end for a life lived in the spotlight from childhood. As a youth, he starred in Our Gang comedy and act in a classic movie, The Treasure of the Sierra Madre. As an adult, he was praised for his portrayal of real-life murderer Perry Smith in the film Truman Capote’s true crime best seller. In cold blood.

His career peaked in the 1975-78 TV cop series, Baretta. He plays a detective who carries a pet cockatoo on his shoulder and loves disguises. It is typical of his specialty, depicting poor men with soft hearts, and his signature line: “Don’t do the crime if you can’t do the time,” is often quoted.

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Blake won a 1975 Emmy for his performance as Tony Baretta, although behind the scenes the show was marred by disputes involving the temperamental star. He has earned a reputation as one of Hollywood’s best actors, but one of the hardest to work with. He later admitted to struggling with alcohol and drug addiction in his early life.

In 1993, Blake won another Emmy as the title character in, Judgment Day: the John List Storywhich describes a soft-spoken, church-going man who kills his wife and three children.

Blake’s career slowed considerably before the trial. He did little on screen after the mid-1980s; his last project was at David Lynch’s Lost Highwaywhich was released in 1997. According to his nephew, Blake spent his later years “enjoying jazz music, playing his guitar, reading poetry, and watching many Hollywood Classic movies.”

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

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When his parents moved the family to Los Angeles, his mother found work for the children as extras in the film and little Mickey Gubitosi was taken from most of the producers who submitted him to Our Gang comedies. He appeared in the series for five years and changed his name to Bobby Blake.

He continued to work with Hollywood legends, playing the young John Garfield It’s funny in 1946 and the little boy who sold Humphrey Bogart a valuable Oscar-winning lottery ticket The Treasure of the Sierra Madre. As he grew older, he got serious film roles. The biggest success was in 1967 with In cold blood. Later there were films including, Tell Them Willie Boy Is Here and Electra Glide in Blue.

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

Her fateful meeting with Bakley came in 1999 at a jazz club where she had gone to escape loneliness.

“Here I am, 67 or 68 years old. My life is on hold. My career was stalled out,” he said in an AP interview. “I’ve been alone for a long time.”

He said he had no reason to dislike Bakley: “He took me off the stand and put me back in the arena. I have something to live for.”

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

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

“Rosie is my blood. Rosie is calling me,” he said. “I have no doubt Rosie and I will ride off into the sunset together.”

Prosecutors will say she planned to kill Bakley to gain sole custody of the baby and tried to hire hitmen for the job. But the evidence was muddled and a jury rejected that theory.

On his last night alive, Blake and his 44-year-old wife dined at a neighborhood restaurant, Vitello’s. He said he was shot when he left her in the car and returned to the restaurant to retrieve a gun he had accidentally left behind. The police were initially confused and Blake was not arrested until a year after the crime had occurred.

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Once a wealthy man, he spent millions on his defense and lived on social security and a Screen Actor’s Guild pension.

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

“I want to give my best performance,” he said. “I want to leave a legacy for Rosie about who I am. I’m not ready for a dog and a fishing pole. I want to go to bed every night desperate to wake up every morning and make magic.”


Linda Deutsch, the primary writer of this obituary, retired from The Associated Press in 2014.