Robert Blake, Emmy Winning Actor Who Was Accused Of Murdering His Wife, Is Dead At 89

 Picture of the late Robert Blake
Picture of the late Robert Blake

Robert Blake is an Emmy award-winning actor perhaps best known to some as playing a television detective in the 1970s’ popular show Baretta. To others he was known as the man accused of, and ultimately acquitted, for murdering his wife outside of a restaurant. It's now been revealed that Blake has died at the age of 89. According to the Associated Press reporting and a statement released on behalf of his niece, Noreen Austin, Blake died from heart disease, surrounded by family at his Los Angeles home.

Though considered at one time to be one of the greatest actors of his generation, he became perhaps better known for being the focal point of the grizzly and bizarre 2001 murder of his wife, Bonny Lee Bakley. While the actor was ultimately acquitted of the murder of his second wife, a civil jury later found him liable for her death and ordered him to pay her family $30 million. Blake had hoped to return to acting, but many could not remember his turn in the beloved crime drama and could not get past the image of him being an aging actor accused of murder. He and Bakley’s daughter, Rose Lenore, was raised by other relatives and went for years without having any relationship with the actor until they finally spoke in 2019. Lenore told People magazine that she called him “Robert,” not “Dad.”

Robert Blake was born Michael James Gubitosi in Nutley, New Jersey, on September 18, 1933. His father, an Italian immigrant, and his mother, an Italian American, dreamed their three children would be successful in show business. So at age 2, Blake began performing with a brother and sister in a family vaudeville act called “The Three Little Hillbillies.” He started his silver screen acting career, starring in the later years of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer’s famous Our Gang (Little Rascals) short film series and 22 entries in the Red Ryder film franchise. Blake was one of the first child stars to transition successfully from child stardom to adult actor. He was praised as an adult for portraying real-life murderer Perry Smith in the critically acclaimed 1967 movie adaptation of Truman Capote’s true crime best-seller, In Cold Blood.

In 1993, Blake won another Emmy as the title character in Judgment Day: The John List Story, portraying a soft-spoken, churchgoing man who murdered his wife and three children.

While the actor’s career plateaued with the 1975-78 TV cop series Baretta, where he starred as a detective who carried a pet cockatoo on his shoulder and was fond of disguises, he continued to work in memorable roles up until his final role as the Mystery Man in one of David Lynch’s most terrifying movies, 1997’s Lost Highway.

On May 4, 2001, at 5:30 pm, the Los Angeles Police Department arrested the actor for the murder of his wife. Bakley had been found in the 11400 block of Woodbridge Street in North Hollywood, slumped in the front seat of her husband’s car, not far from the neighborhood restaurant, Vitello, where the two had just been dining. He claimed she was shot when he left her in the car and returned to the restaurant to retrieve a handgun he had inadvertently left behind. Police were initially baffled, and Blake was not arrested until a year after the crime occurred.

Prosecutors claimed he planned to kill Bakley to get sole custody of their daughter and tried to hire an assassin for the job, but the evidence was muddled, and the jury was unconvinced.

Robert Blake maintained his innocence during his remaining years, even yelling at Pierce Morgan during a heated interview. In a 2006 interview with the AP, a year after his acquittal, Blake said he hoped to restart his career. He told the publication.

I’d like to give my best performance. I’d like to leave a legacy for Rosie about who I am. I’m not ready for a dog and fishing pole yet. I’d like to go to bed each night desperate to wake up each morning and create some magic.

In 2011, Blake penned a memoir titled” Tales of a Rascal: What I Did for Love,” detailing his career and life. In later years, Blake lived in Los Angeles and enjoyed jazz, playing his guitar, and reading poetry, per his family.