Robert Blake, the Hollywood star famous for playing a TV detective on Baretta and infamous as the suspect in his wife’s shooting death, has died at the age of 89, the Associated Press reported. The cause of death was heart disease, his family said.
Blake was acquitted of murdering his second wife Bonny Lee Bakley outside a restaurant in 2001, but a civil jury later found him liable for her death and ordered him to pay her family $30 million.
In a 2019 interview with ABC’s 20/20, Blake adopted a defiant tone when talking about his tumultuous life.
“I’m 85 years old, I’m beat up all to hell and gone but I’m still here,” he said.
“I ain’t stick a gun in my mouth. I’m not juicing. I ain’t taking dope,” he added.
“I keep waiting for God to jump in, but he doesn’t owe me anything, because I’ve been paid in full a thousand times over. If you live to be 1,000, you’ll never be anybody with more miracles in their life than me.”
Blake was born Mickey Gubitosi in New Jersey and began his career in show business as a child, playing “Mickey” in the Our Gang comedy series.
By his own account, he became a teenage criminal and even did jail time before he enlisted in the military. After his discharge, he returned to acting and scored roles in a series of movies, winning rave reviews for his portrayal of convicted murderer Perry Smith in the film adaptation of Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood.
He achieved real stardom in the 1970s with the series Baretta, playing an undercover cop with a penchant for disguises and a pet parrot named Fred. He won an Emmy for his work on the show.
His career was in the doldrums when he met Bakley—a celebrity-chasing scam artist who was involved with Marlon Brando’s son, Christian. She got pregnant, and Blake married her in 1999.
Two years later, Blake found himself at the center of a real-life drama. Bakley was shot to death in a car outside a Studio City restaurant, supposedly while Blake ran back into the eatery to retrieve a gun he accidentally left there.
Police charged him and his bodyguard with the slaying.
“We believe the motive is that Blake had contempt for Bonny Bakley,” said then-LAPD Chief Bernard Parks said at the time. “He felt he was trapped in a marriage that he wanted no part of.”
After a sensational trial, the jury found Blake not guilty, citing flimsy evidence and unreliable witnesses. Blake broke down weeping in the courtroom upon hearing the verdict.
He was not as lucky in civil court, where the burden of proof was lower. The jury voted 10-2 that he was responsible and he was ordered to pay $30 million to Bakley’s family, although that sum was lowered in a settlement.
Blake, forced into bankruptcy and with no hope of a career comeback, also lost custody of his daughter, Rosie, who was raised by her half-sister and did not see her father between the ages of 5 and 17.
She reconnected with him in 2018, she told People. “We talked about my childhood,” she said. “We talked about his life, what he’s been doing. Just talked about everything.”
Blake maintained his innocence until the end.
“I was worth $40 million,” he told 20/20. “I would hire somebody to shoot my wife in a car while I was out taking a pee or some bullsh*t thing like that? I’ve been in Hollywood all my life.”