Actor Robert Blake, famed for starring in the film “In Cold Blood” and later in the TV hit “Baretta” is dead at the age of 89.
Blake’s niece attributed the cause of death to heart disease.
Blake, born Michael James Gubitosi, “passed away peacefully surrounded by family by his side in Los Angeles,” his representative stated.
Born in 1933, by the time he was 3 years old, Blake was performing with his two siblings in New Jersey as “The Three Little Hillbillies.” The family moved to Los Angeles when he was 4 for the children to star in show business. Blake appeared in films as far back as 1939 in “Bridal Suite,” then starred in “Our Gang.”
In later years, Blake said that his parents abused him and that he was often locked in a closet and forced to eat off the floor as punishment, prompting him to run away from home when he was 14. He joined the U.S. Army in 1950. When he exited four years later he became depressed and started using and selling drugs.
But then he joined Jeff Corey’s acting class, and appeared in various TV shows, finally making his break to stardom in the 1967 film “In Cold Blood” where he played the brutal murderer Perry Smith.
In 1975, Blake began his role as police detective Tony Baretta, which lasted until 1978 and garnered him an Emmy for outstanding lead actor in a drama series.
Blake married actress Sondra Kerr in 1961, a marriage that lasted 22 years and produced two children. In 2000, he married Bonny Lee Bakley who had reportedly been married nine times before.
On May 4, 2001, Blake and Bakley went to dinner at Vitello’s Italian Restaurant in Studio City, California. Bakley was found murdered in their car with two gunshot wounds. Blake told police they had eaten and exited to the car but he had returned to the restaurant to retrieve his gun.
Blake was arrested almost a year later and charged with one count of murder with a special circumstance of lying in wait and two counts of solicitation of murder. He pled not guilty while the case made national headlines.
Blake spent months in jail before he was granted bail. The murder weapon was finally found in a dumpster, but it was not the gun Blake had taken to the restaurant the night of the murder.
On March 16, 2005, Blake was acquitted. Months later, Bakley’s children filed a wrongful death civil suit and the civil jury ordered Blake to pay Bakley’s children $30 million.