US actor Robert Blake (1933-2023) has died of a heart condition at his home in Los Angeles, California, at the age of 89. At the time of his death, he was surrounded by his family. His niece Noreen Austin shared this with "Deadline", among other things. In September he would have been 90 years old.
The artist, who was born in New Jersey as Michael James Vijencio Gubitosi, became a child star with the TV series "The Little Rascals" (1939-1944). After a string of television roles, he starred in the 1967 Oscar-nominated film In Cold Blood.
The film led to his breakthrough television role in the TV series "Baretta" (1975-1978), in which he played New York detective Tony Baretta. The series ran for four seasons and resulted in his first Emmy for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series in 1975. In 1977 he was again nominated for this role. Two more Emmy nominations followed in 1983 ("Haunted Till Death") and 1993 ("Judgement Day - John Lists Story").
His last appearance on a television series was in 1985's "Hell Town," which ran for one season.
Privately, Robert Blake was involved in a dramatic murder trial that also cost him his career. In 2002 he was acquitted of shooting his second wife, Bonny Lee Bakley (1956-2001).
Bakley, a 44-year-old mother of four, was shot dead on May 4, 2001 in Blake's car, which was parked around the corner from an Italian restaurant in Studio City, California, where the couple had just eaten. At the time, Blake told authorities he left his wife alone while he returned to the restaurant to retrieve a handgun he said had fallen out of his clothing, which authorities determined was not used in the murder.
Almost a year later, he was arrested by the police. At his trial, prosecutors relied on testimonies from two retired stuntmen, who alleged that Blake tried to hire them as hit men, a claim the defense dismissed as unreliable. No eyewitnesses, blood or DNA evidence linked Blake to the crime. The jury deliberated for eight days before finding Blake not guilty.
Blake and Bakley had been married for about five months at the time of the murder, and they had a daughter, Rose, who was 11 months old. Years after the murder, Blake maintained his innocence.