Actor Robert Blake, who was acquitted of the murder of his wife, dies at 89

Robert Blake – an award-winning actor best known for starring in 1970s TV dramas before his trial for the murder of his wife garnered national attention – has died at his home in Los Angeles, according to his family. He was 89 years old.

He “passed away peacefully surrounded by his family by his side,” his niece, Noreen Austin, said in a statement Thursday. The cause of his death was heart disease, Austin said.

Blake’s most prominent role was playing savvy New York City undercover, costume-loving detective Tony Baretta, who carried a cockatoo on his shoulder, in the crime series “Baretta” which ran on ABC from 1975 to 1978. This role earned him an Emmy Award for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series in 1975 and a Golden Globe Award in 1976.

He had previously played roles in such films as “Treasure of the Sierra Madre,” a 1948 western starring actor Humphrey Bogart, and “In Cold Blood,” a 1967 adaptation of Truman Capote’s popular book.

Off-screen, however, Blake’s acting career was overshadowed by his entanglement in the murder trial of his wife, Bonny Lee Bakley, who was shot in 2001.

Blake told police that after dining at a restaurant in Los Angeles, he returned to the restaurant to retrieve a handgun he had left there – and returned to find his wife, 44, bleeding from wounds shot in their nearby car.

Prosecutors claimed he tried to hire hitmen to murder his wife before committing the crime himself. Blake did not speak during his criminal trial and has always maintained his innocence. After a sensational three-month trial in 2005, which attracted media attention, he was acquitted.

However, a jury in a subsequent civil wrongful death suit brought by Bakley’s family found him responsible for his wife’s death. He was ordered to pay $30 million, a sum that was later reduced. Blake filed for bankruptcy.

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Born Michael James Gubitosi on September 18, 1933, in Nutley, New Jersey, according to the Associated Press, Blake moved to California at a young age with his parents and family.

He broke into Hollywood at the age of five, dancing in shows alongside his two siblings, before catching the attention of studio casting directors who selected him for a role in the series of comedy shorts “Our Gang”, also known as “The Little Rascals”. .” This role helped launch his career, as he starred in more than 200 feature and short films, according to his family. He also briefly served in the military.

His last high-profile acting role was in the 1997 David Lynch film, “Lost Highway,” about a man accused of killing his wife.

In 2011, Blake wrote a memoir titled “Tales of a Rascal: What I Did for Love” detailing her career and life. Shortly after, he appeared on CNN, where he told British journalist Piers Morgan that he didn’t particularly want to discuss the case, telling Morgan that his wife’s death was “not the right thing to do.” most important in my life”.

Later, Blake lived in Los Angeles and enjoyed jazz, playing guitar and reading poetry, his family said.

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Timothy Bella contributed to this report.

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