Robert Blakea child actor who rose to fame in movies and TV shows, but whose legacy has been tarnished by suspicions about the unsolved murder of his second wifedied Thursday at the age of 89.
A statement released on behalf of his niece, Noreen Austin, said Blake died of heart disease, surrounded by family at home in Los Angeles, The Associated Press reported.
Blake’s career spanned decades and included memorable roles in the shorts “Our Gang” (known as “The Little Rascals”), the 1967 film adaptation of Truman Capote’s “In Cold Blood.” and ABC’s 1970s crime show “Baretta,” for which won him an Emmy and a Golden Globe. But Blake’s dedication to acting was overshadowed by the 2001 death of Bonny Lee Bakley. The budding actress, then 44, was shot and killed outside a restaurant while having dinner with her husband.
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He was born Michael Gubitosi on September 18, 1933 in Nutley, New Jersey, the third child of Giacomo Gubitosi and Elizabeth Cafone.
Blake started out as an extra on “Our Gang”. He revealed during an early ’90s appearance on “The Joan Rivers Show” how he got a speaking role for the series he appeared on from 1939 to 1944. He was credited as Mickey Gubitosi, and his character was also called Mickey.
“One day a little kid couldn’t say a line, and I saw that if you stood in front of the camera and talked, people paid attention to you,” Blake told Rivers. “And I said, ‘Man, I can say that! I can say that! “
Blake adopted the stage name Bobby Blake and continued to act in films and television series, including westerns like “Have Gun – Will Travel” (1960 to 1962), “Wagon Train” (1961) and “Rawhide ” (1965).
His breakthrough role came in 1967 with Oscar-nominated “In Cold Blood,” based on Truman Capote’s book. Blake portrayed Perry Smith, who along with Richard Hickock killed a couple and their two children in a 1959 burglary.
Blake went from criminal to cop in “Baretta,” which premiered in 1975 and ran for four seasons, as Detective Tony Baretta, but told “20/20” in 2019 that his perfectionism kept him from playing. enjoy the role. “I drove myself crazy,” he said. “Every script had to be better. Every direction had to be better. Every casting had to be better.”
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Blake walked away from the show, but continued to appear on television, as a frequent panelist on “Hollywood Squares” in the early to mid-70s and a guest on “The Tonight Show,” making dozens of appearances. .
In 1985, Blake starred in the short-lived NBC series “Hell Town,” centering on a priest who leads a church on the east side of Los Angeles. Blake told “20/20” that the workload for the series he created turned out to be too heavy. “I thought I was doing God’s work. I was crazy,” he said. “I had a nervous breakdown in front of the camera, and I left the set, and I left the show.”
Blake also said during the same interview that his parents hated him from conception. Blake claimed he was the result of his mother’s affair with Giacomo’s brother Tony, who separated when Elizabeth became pregnant.
“She hated what was in her stomach because it belonged to Tony, and Tony had abandoned her,” Blake alleged. “Jimmy (Giacomo) hated what was here (shows his stomach) because he knew it was Tony’s, and I knew they both hated me.”
In the interview, Blake recalled his “crazy dad” moving the family to Los Angeles when he was four. Blake’s success in show business only intensified his father’s hatred, the actor told Rivers, “The more success I got, the more he wanted to kill me.”
“My dad was a psychotic man. He tried to kill me,” Blake said. “My mother was no better. … They locked me in cupboards. They beat me. They made me eat like a dog off the floor.” Blake said during the interview that his mother held back his affection, and the first time he remembered being touched was on the set of “Mokey” in 1942 when his on-screen mother , Donna Reed, hugged him. “I almost died,” Blake said of the shock. “I felt so good, I couldn’t even breathe.”
Her troubled self-image continued into adulthood. Blake said on “20/20” that he loses part of his sanity every time he doesn’t have a job. “I was always at least 50% self-destructive, but when I wasn’t working I couldn’t take the way I felt,” he said. “Bipolar? I was tripolar. I was quadpolar. Who the hell knows what kind of polar I was? I had 35 different sensations in five minutes. I was crazy when I was away from the camera.”
Blake last appeared in David Lynch’s 1997 film “Lost Highway”, starring Bill Pullman and Patricia Arquette, according to IMDb.
Blake was married three times, but reiterated his inadequacy to Rivers when reflecting on his first union with actress Sondra Kerr (1961 to 1983), with whom he had two children: Noah, now an actor, in 1965 , and Delinah Blake Hurwitz, a psychology professor, a year later.
“She put up with a lot,” Blake told Rivers. “I’ve never been a good husband. I’ve never been a good father. I’ve never been a good friend. I’ve never been good at anything. I’ve never learned to be what whatever. I was 2 years old, and that’s all I’ve ever been.”
Blake crossed paths with Bonny Lee Bakley in 1999 at a jazz club. Bakley longed to be known, her longtime friend Christina Scheier told CBS News in 2002, hoping that she would marry in fame and fortune. “She went to see Tom Jones, Frankie Valli, and she really harassed Frankie,” Scheier said. Bakley had a relationship with Marlon Brando’s son, Christian. Bakley told Christian he got her pregnant, but the child turned out to be Blake’s. Rose was born on June 2, 2000. Blake and Bakley were married from November 2000 until her death on May 4, 2001.
That evening, the couple dined at Vitello’s, an Italian restaurant in Studio City, California. After eating, Bakley waited in the car while Blake returned to the restaurant to retrieve a gun he had forgotten. When he returned to the car, he said he found Bakley shot. Although Blake could not be linked to the murder weapon, two former stunt men said the actor tried to hire them to assassinate Bakley. Blake faced charges of murder under special circumstances and two counts of solicitation of murder.
Blake spent nearly a year in Los Angeles County Jail before being released on bail in March 2003.
Blake was acquitted in March 2005, but found responsible for Bakley’s death months later in a civil suit brought by the victim’s four children. Blake was ordered to pay $30 million, but that judgment was reduced to $15 million in 2008.
Blake got heated when Piers Morgan brought up Bakley during a 2012 interview to promote his memoir “Tales of a Rascal: What I Did for Love.” “Why would I marry her if I was going to kill her?” Blake asked. “I could have hired someone to kill her when she was in Tibet or wherever. She drove all over the country. I could have hired someone to follow her for 10 months and make her disappear so that no one Never find her, for God’s sake. Would I go to dinner with her to kill her?
Blake married a third time in 2017 to Pamela Hudak, an event planner who spoke on Blake’s behalf during his murder trial. Their union ended the following year.
Blake’s sister, Joan, died in 1985 at age 52. His brother James died in 1995 aged 64.
In September 2019, Blake began uploading a series of videos titled “Robert Blake: I’m Not Dead Yet, So Stay Tuned…” to his YouTube channel. In Episode 33posted on January 13, 2022, Blake said he felt comfortable thinking about the end of his life.
“When I go, I don’t mind going,” he said. “God gave me 88 years, and I should have been dead 80 of those years. Or I should have shot my father. Maybe I would have lived a better life.”
Blake had only one wish: that his death be quick.
“When I croak, I hope to do it fast, clean up and be done with it,” he said. “The only thing I don’t want to do is spend a lot of time in a hospital somewhere, with people coming to visit me and trying to cheer me up, when I’d much rather they had brought a gun and they just jumped in my head when I wasn’t looking at them.”
He added: “I would almost rather be in jail than in hospital.”
Contribute: The Associated Press