Actor Robert Blake, whose decades-long film and television career was tarnished by a notorious murder trial, has died aged 89.
Blake died in Los Angeles, his niece Noreen confirmed to CBS News on Thursday. She said he died after a battle with heart disease, adding that he “passed away peacefully with his family and friends”.
The Los Angeles County Coroner’s Office told CBS News it “does not have a report” on Blake’s death.
“Due to his age and medical history, his death may not be within our jurisdiction,” a statement from the coroner’s office said.
Before being tried and acquitted in the shooting death of his wife, Blake was best known for the 1970s television series “Baretta,” for which he won a Best Actor Emmy in 1975, and his final role in the screen, the 1997 film “Lost Highway”.
However, on May 4, 2001, Blake’s wife, Bonny Lee Bakley, was fatally shot in Blake’s car near a restaurant in the Studio City neighborhood of Los Angeles.
Blake was stopped charged with murder in April 2002.
Finally the case went to trial end of 2004, and Blake was acquitted by a Los Angeles jury in early 2005.
The jury of seven men and five women returned the verdicts on its ninth day of deliberations, after a four-month trial with a cast of characters including two Hollywood stuntmen who said Blake tried to hire them to kill his wife.
However, no eyewitnesses, blood or DNA evidence linked Blake to the crime. The murder weapon, found in a trash can, could not be traced to Blake, and witnesses said the tiny amounts of bullet residue found on Blake’s hands may have come from a different weapon he said he wore for protection.
Blake had hundreds of film and television credits. His career began when he was a preschooler, starring as Mickey in the 1930s and 1940s children’s comedy film series “Our Gang,” which ran for decades on television.
He received critical acclaim for his portrayal of the real life killer Perry Smith in the 1967 film “In Cold Blood.” In 1993, Blake won another Emmy as the lead character in “Judgment Day: The John List Story” , depicting a soft-spoken, observant man who murdered his wife and three children – also based on the true story of a convicted murderer.
He was born Michael James Gubitosi on September 18, 1933 in Nutley, New Jersey. His father, an Italian immigrant, and his mother, an Italian-American, wanted their three children to succeed in show business. By 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 for the kids as movie extras, and little Mickey Gubitosi was snatched from the crowd by producers who cast him in comedies.” Our Gang”. He appeared on the show for five years and changed his name to Bobby Blake.
He went on to work with Hollywood legends, playing young John Garfield in 1946’s ‘Humorous’ and the little boy who sells Humphrey Bogart a crucial lottery ticket in ‘The Treasure of the Sierra Madre’.
As an adult, he landed serious film roles. The biggest breakthrough came in 1967 with “In Cold Blood”. Later, there were films including “Tell ’em Willie Boy Is Here” and “Electra Glide in Blue”.
In 1961, Blake and actress Sondra Kerr married and had two children, Noah and Delinah. They divorced in 1983.
His fateful meeting with Bakley took place in 1999 at a jazz club where he went to escape loneliness.
“I was 67 or 68. My life was on hold. My career was at a standstill,” he said in an interview with The Associated Press. “I have been alone for a long time.”
When Bakley gave birth to a baby girl, she named Christian Brando – son of Marlon – as her father. But the DNA tests pointed to Blake.
Blake saw the baby girl, named Rosie, for the first time when she was two months old and she became the center of his life. He married Bakley because of the child.
“Rosie is my blood. Rosie calls me,” he said. “I have no doubt that Rosie and I will be walking together into the sunset.”
Prosecutors allegedly claim he planned to kill Bakley to gain sole custody of the baby and were trying to hire hitmen for the job. But the evidence was confusing and a jury rejected that theory.
On his last night alive, Blake and his 44-year-old wife dined at a neighborhood restaurant, Vitello’s. 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. The police were initially baffled, and Blake was not arrested until a year after the crime.
Once a wealthy man, he spent millions on his defense and ended up living off Social Security and a Screen Actor’s Guild pension.
In a 2006 interview with the AP, a year after his acquittal, Blake said he hoped to revive his career.
“I would like to give my best performance,” he said. “I’d like to leave Rosie a legacy of who I am. I’m not ready for a dog and a fishing rod yet. I’d like to go to bed every night desperate to wake up every morning and create magic.”