89-year-old Robert Blake died Thursday after going from fame for his acting to notoriety after he was tried and acquitted for murdering his wife. In a statement released on behalf of his niece, Noreen Austin, Blake died at home in Los Angeles from heart disease surrounded by family.
.Blake, star of the 1970s TV show, Baretta, once hoped for a comeback, but was never able to recover from the long ordeal that began with the shooting death of his wife, Bonny Lee Bakley, outside a Studio City restaurant on May 4, 2001. The story of their strange marriage, the child it produced and its violent end was a Hollywood tragedy played out in court.
Originally hailed as one of the finest actors of his generation, Blake is better known as the subject of a bizarre murder trial, one that is more bizarre than any he has ever appeared in. Many remembered him not as the rugged, dark-haired star of Baretta, but as a spectral, white-haired murder defendant. While he was jailed awaiting trial in 2002, he bemoaned the change in status he had with his fans nationwide: “It hurt because America was the only family I had.”
His adamant belief was that he had not murdered Bakley, but a jury found him guilty and ordered him to pay $30 million to the Bakley family, a judgment that forced him into bankruptcy. He and Bakley had a daughter together named Rose Lenore, who was raised by other relatives and did not see Blake for years before he spoke to her in 2019. She told People magazine she called him “Robert,” not “Dad.”
His life, which was in the public eye since he was a child, came to an ignominious end. In his youth, he acted in Our Gang comedies and starred in the movie classic The Treasure of Sierra Madre. He later received acclaim for his portrayal of murderer Perry Smith in the film adaptation of Truman Capote’s true crime bestseller In Cold Blood. His career reached its peak with Baretta, a TV cop show that aired from 1975-78. As the lead detective who carried a pet cockatoo on his shoulder and often donned disguises, he played characters known for their tough exteriors but tender hearts – exemplified by his signature line: “
Although the show was wracked by disputes involving the temperamental star behind the scenes, Blake won an Emmy for playing Tony Baretta. It became clear that he was among Hollywood’s finest actors, but he was also one of the most difficult to work with. As a child, he struggled with alcoholism and drug abuse.
baby was the motive for the murder of Bakley. After DNA tests revealed that Blake was Rosie’s biological father, he became devoted to her and even married Bakley despite their rocky past. He expressed his love for his daughter and claimed that they shared a strong bond. Although prosecutors accused him of plotting to kill Bakley to gain custody of Rosie, the jury ultimately dismissed this theory due to insufficient evidence.
As he claimed to have shot her while leaving her in the car, Blake returned to Vitello’s restaurant, where he found a handgun he had inadvertently left behind. On her last night alive, Blake and his wife dined at Vitello’s. In the beginning, police were baffled and Blake wasn’t arrested until a year later.
In a 2006 interview with the Associated Press a year after his acquittal, Blake said he hoped to restart his career even though he spent millions on his defense. The former wealthy actor ended up living off social security and a Screen Actor’s Guild pension.
In order to leave a legacy of who I am for Rosie, he said, “I want to give my best performance. I’m not ready for a dog or fishing pole yet. I want to go to bed at night desperate to create something every morning.”