HOLLYWOOD – Robert Blake, the actor best known for his Emmy-winning role in the 1970s TV series “Baretta,” has died at the age of 89. Blake’s son-in-law, Gregg Hurwitz, confirmed the news to Variety. According to the Associated Press, Blake passed away from heart disease at his home in Los Angeles on Thursday.
Blake’s career spanned over six decades and included roles in films, TV series, and commercials. He was a former child actor who appeared in over 40 shorts for MGM’s “Our Gang” series during the 1940s. In the 1950s, Blake transitioned to adult roles in action films and Westerns, and in the 1960s, he moved into more prominent roles in films such as “PT 109” and “In Cold Blood.”
Despite his successful acting career, Blake’s legacy is complicated by the murder trial that followed the death of his wife, Bonny Lee Bakley, in 2001. Although he was acquitted of the murder charge, Blake was found liable for her wrongful death in a civil trial and was ordered to pay her family RM135.63 million. Blake filed for bankruptcy in 2006.
Blake’s personal turmoil was said to have fueled his acting, and he acknowledged in a 2011 interview with Tavis Smiley that he may not have been an actor if he had not been sick and troubled.
Blake’s most iconic role was in the TV series “Baretta,” which ran from 1975 to 1978. He won an Emmy for his portrayal of the cockatoo-owning undercover cop in 1975 and was nominated again in 1977. The show was created by Stephen J. Cannell, who once noted that Blake was as brilliant as his character but that “the devil gets into him,” creating part of the intensity seen onscreen.
Blake’s involvement in the production of “Baretta” was intense, according to producer Roy Huggins, who said that “no actor had been that involved.” Blake always had an agenda and a vision he wanted to implement, said Huggins.
Born Michael Gubitosi in Nutley, New Jersey, Blake came from a family of performers. He appeared along with his siblings in his parents’ vaudeville troupe and began working as a movie extra when his family moved to Los Angeles. Blake’s film debut came in 1939’s “Bridal Suite,” and he went on to appear in more than 100 films and TV shows throughout his career.
Blake’s final roles were in the films “Money Train” (1995), in which he played a villainous transit chief, and “Lost Highway” (1997), in which he was memorable as the terrifying Mystery Man in white pancake makeup. – Variety