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

Linda Deutsch, The Associated Press

Published Thursday, March 9th, 2023 7:55 PM EST

Last updated Thursday, March 9, 2023 8:35 PM EST

LOS ANGELES (AP) – Emmy Award-winning performer Robert Blake, who rose from acclaim to fame for his performance in the trial and acquittal of his wife’s murder, died Thursday at the age of 89.

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

Blake, star of the 1970s TV show “Baretta,” once hoped for a comeback, but he never recovered from the lengthy ordeal that took place on May 4 when his wife, Bonnie Lee Bakley, was shot outside a Studio City restaurant. It started with a shooting. , 2001. The story of their strange marriage, the children they produced, and its violent end was a Hollywood tragedy that was played out in court.

Once ranked among the finest actors of his generation, Blake finds himself at the center of a real-life murder trial, a story far more bizarre than the one in which he starred. Many remembered him not as the rugged, dark-haired star of “Beretta,” but as a spectral, white-haired murder defendant.

In a 2002 interview with The Associated Press when he was jailed awaiting trial, he denounced his change of status to fans across the country: “It hurt because America is the only family “

He was adamant that he had not murdered his wife and a jury eventually acquitted him. But a civil jury would find him liable for her death and order him to pay $30 million to Bakley’s family, a decision that sent him into bankruptcy. He and Buckley had a daughter, Rose Lenore, who was raised by other relatives and went years without seeing Blake until they spoke in 2019. She would tell People magazine that she called him “Robert”, not “Dad”.

It was an embarrassing end to a life in the limelight since childhood. As a youngster, he starred in the comedy “Our Gang” and starred in a film classic, “The Treasure of the Sierra Madre”. As an adult, he received acclaim for his portrayal of real-life murderer Perry Smith in the film adaptation of Truman Capote’s true crime best seller “In Cold Blood”.

His career peaked with the 1975–78 TV cop series, “Baretta”. He starred as a detective who carried a pet cockatoo on his shoulder and was fond of disguises. It was his specialty, portraying tough guys with soft hearts, and its signature line: “If you can’t do the time don’t do the crime,” was often quoted.

Blake won a 1975 Emmy for his portrayal of Tony Baretta, although behind the scenes the show was wracked by controversies involving the short-tempered star. He gained a reputation as one of Hollywood’s finest actors, but one of the most difficult to work with. He later admitted to struggling with alcoholism and drug addiction in his early life.

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

Blake’s career had slowed down considerably before the trial. He made only a few screen appearances after the mid-1980s; His last project was in David Lynch’s “Lost Highway”, released in 1997. According to his niece, Blake had spent his last years “enjoying jazz music, playing his guitar, reading poetry, and watching several Hollywood classics.”

He was born Michael James Gubitosi on September 18, 1933, in Nutley, New Jersey. Their father, an Italian immigrant, and their mother, an Italian American, wanted their three children to be successful 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 as a movie extra for children, and little Mickey Gubitosi was pulled from the crowd by producers who cast him in the comedy “Our Gang”. He appeared in the series for five years and changed his name to Bobby Blake.

He worked with Hollywood heavyweights, playing young John Garfield in “Humorasc” in 1946 and playing the little boy who sells an important lottery ticket to Humphrey Bogart in the Oscar-winning “The Treasure of the Sierra Madre.”

In adulthood, he played serious film roles. The biggest success came in 1967 with “In Cold Blood”. Later films such as “Tell Them Willie Boy Is Here” and “Elektra Glides in Blue” were made.

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

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

“Here I was, 67 or 68. My life was on hold. My career was on hold,” he said in the AP interview. “I was single for a long time.”

He said he had no reason to dislike Bakley: “He pulled me out of the stands and put me back in the arena. I had something to live for.

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

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

“Rosie is my blood. Rosie is calling me,” she 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 in order to gain sole custody of the child and tried to hire hitmen for the job. But the evidence was tampered with and the jury rejected that theory.

On his last night alive, Blake and his wife of 44 years had dinner at a nearby restaurant, Vitello. He claimed she was shot after he had dropped her off at the car and returned to the restaurant to retrieve a handgun she had inadvertently left behind. The police were initially baffled and Blake was not arrested until a year after the crime had been committed.

Once a wealthy man, he spent millions on his defense and lived on Social Security and a Screen Actors Guild pension.

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

He said, ‘I want to do my best. “I want to leave Rosie a legacy of who I am. I’m not ready for a dog and a fishing pole just yet. I want to go to bed every night and wake up every morning looking forward to making some magic happen.


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

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