Robert Blake, one of the first child actors to successfully transition to adult roles, died of heart disease on March 9. His family, including his niece Noreen Austin and daughter Delinah Blake Hurwitz, confirmed his death – adding that he died ‘peacefully’ and was ‘surrounded by family’ at the time of his passing.
Blake’s acting career dates back to 1939 when he was just 6 years old. He appeared in the film Bridal Suite before spending five years as Mickey in the MGM short film series Our Gang. He was known and billed by his birth name, Mickey Gubitosi, in his early years – he took the Robert Blake name in 1942.
All in all, Blake appeared in 40 of the Our Gang films. After the series was discontinued, he appeared in 23 of the Red Ryder short films – cast as a Native American boy, Little Beaver. During this time, he also appeared in several films, including The Big Noise, Humoresque, and The Treasure of the Sierra Madre.
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By the 1950s, Robert Blake saw his life change. He was drafted into the United States Army and spent four years fighting for his country. He left the army at 21 years old, but struggled to find acting roles as he fell into a deep depression – which was worsened by his addiction to heroin and cocaine for two years.
Looking to continue his career, Blake began learning how to improve himself – both professionally and personally – with the help of coveted acting teacher Jeff Corey. After turning down a role in Bonanza, he appeared in numerous film and TV projects, including The Purple Gang, Pork Chop Hill, and much more.
His breakout role came in 1967 when he was cast as Perry Smith in the film In Cold Blood. It sparked quite the career resurgence for Robert Blake and resulted in a flurry of big-name projects – eventually earning the role as Tony Baretta in the popular television series Baretta between 1975 and 1978.
That role earned him several Emmy Award nominations, including an Emmy win for outstanding lead actor in a drama series. He also appeared in the 1981 film Of Mice and Men, the 1985 series Hell Town, the 1995 film Money Train, and his final screen credit came in 1997 with David Lynch’s Lost Highway.
Robert Blake Was Acquitted of Murdering His Wife in 2005
On May 4, 2001, Robert Blake was enjoying a night out with his wife, Bonnie Lee Bakley. The couple went out to dinner at Vitello’s Italian Restaurant in Studio City, California – not far from the couple’s home. After they left the restaurant, Blake realized his gun had fallen out of his pocket inside the restaurant.
He returned to the restaurant after parking his car around the corner. His wife was sitting in the vehicle waiting for him to return when she was shot in the head. Robert Blake, along with his bodyguard, were initially charged with the murder and had two former stuntmen testify that he hired them to kill his wife.
Four years later, Blake was acquitted of the murder after the jury struggled to find any connection between him and the murder. The gun he left in the restaurant was not the murder weapon. Blake spent more than a year in jail before posting bail of $1.5 million – maintaining his innocence throughout.
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Despite being acquitted, Robert Blake did face a civil suit later that year, which was filed by Bakley’s three children. The jury found Blake to be liable for the wrongful death of his wife and was ordered to pay $30 million – a number that was cut in half after an appeal. He has maintained his innocence ever since.
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