Robert Blake, the Emmy Award-winning performer, who went from acclaim and notoriety for his acting to notoriety after he was tried and acquitted for murdering his wife, passed away Thursday at age 89. CBS News confirms the information.
Noreen Austin, his niece, released a statement confirming that Blake had died of heart disease. She was surrounded at home by her family in Los Angeles.
Blake, the TV star from 1970’s “Baretta,” once hoped for a comeback. But he didn’t recover from the long ordeal that began with Bonny Lee Bakley being shot to death in front of a Studio City restaurant. Their bizarre marriage, their violent ending and the child they had was a Hollywood tragedy.
Blake, once considered one of the greatest actors his generation, became well-known for being the defendant in an unusual real-life crime story.
In 2002, while he was in jail awaiting trial, he spoke with The Associated Press and said that it hurt because America was the only family he had.
He insisted that he had not murdered his wife. A jury ultimately acquitted. However, a civil jury found Bakley guilty and ordered Bakley to pay Bakley’s family $30,000,000. This was the judgment that sent Bakley into bankruptcy.
It was the end of a life spent in the spotlight since childhood. He was a star of the “Our Gang” comedy and also starred as a lead in the classic movie, “The Treasure of the Sierra Madre.” He was praised for his role as Perry Smith, a real-life serial killer, in “In Cold Blood,” Truman Capote’s movie.
His TV series “Baretta”, in 1975-1978, marked the peak of his career. He played a detective with a pet cockatoo who he carried on his shoulder. He also liked disguises. It was typical of his speciality, which featured tough guys with soft hearts. The famous line “Don’t do the crime, if it’s not possible to do the time” was often quoted.
Blake won an Emmy for portraying Tony Baretta in 1975, but behind the scenes, there were many disputes with the temperamental star. He is known for being one of Hollywood’s most talented actors but also one of its most difficult to work alongside.
Blake won an Emmy in 1993 for his role as the title character of “Judgment Days: The John List Story”. He played the soft-spoken, churchgoing husband who murdered his wife, and three children.
His personal story was as dramatic as any of his characters, and he later admitted to having had his own problems with alcoholism and drug addiction early in his life.
Michael James Gubitosi was born in Nutley on September 18, 1933. His father was an Italian immigrant. His mother was Italian American. Blake was 2 years old when he performed with his brother and sister in a family show called “The Three Little Hillbillies”.
His parents moved his family to Los Angeles. His mother was able to find work as extras for the children. Little Mickey Gubitosi was then picked out by producers and cast in the “Our Gang” comedies. He appeared on the series for five seasons and changed his name into Bobby Blake.
He worked with Hollywood legends and played John Garfield’s young son in “Humoresque,” 1946. He also played the role of Humphrey Bogart’s little boy who sells Humphrey Bogart an important lottery ticket in the movie “The Treasure of the Sierra Madre.”
As an adult, he was offered serious roles in films. In Cold Blood was his 1967 breakthrough. There were later films like “In Cold Blood”, “Tell Them Willie Boy Is Here” and “Electra Glide in Blue”.
Blake and Sondra Kerr were married in 1961. They had two children: Noah and Delinah. They separated in 1983.
Bakley was the one who brought him together in 1999.
“Here, I was, 67-68 years of age. My life was in jeopardy. In the AP interview, he stated that my career was “stalled out”. “I’d been lonely for a long while.”
Bakley said that he had no reason not to like him: “She took my out of the stands, and put me back into the arena. I had something to be happy for.”
Bakley gave birth to a little girl and named Christian Brando (son of Marlon) as her father. But DNA tests proved that Blake was the father.
Blake first met Rosie, a little girl named Rosie, at two months of age. From that point on, she became the focal point of his entire life. Bakley was the reason he married him.
“Rosie is my blood. Rosie is calling out to me,” he declared. “I have no doubt Rosie is calling to me,” he said.
Prosecutors would say that Bakley plotted to kill Bakley for sole custody and hired hitmen for the job. However, the evidence was murky so a jury rejected this theory.
Blake and his 44-year old wife, Vitello’s, dined out at a local restaurant on Blake’s last night of life. He claimed that he shot her when he took her out of the car and returned to the restaurant with a gun he had accidentally left behind. Blake was not initially arrested by police until a year later after the crime.
A once wealthy man, he spent millions of dollars on his defense and ended up living off social security and a Screen Actor’s Guild Pension.
Blake spoke out in 2006 to the AP about his hopes of resuming his career, one year after his acquittal.
He stated, “I’d love to give my highest performance.” Rosie will have a lasting memory of me. I’m still not ready for a dog or fishing pole. I’d love to go to sleep every night, eager to rise each morning to make some magic.