Actor Robert Blake, who was best known for his lead role as a New York detective in “Baretta” and later stood trial — but was acquitted — for his wife’s 2001 killing in Studio City, died Thursday at age 89.
His niece, Noreen Austin, told Deadline Blake died in Los Angeles of heart disease.
Blake, born in New Jersey in 1933, spent the better part of six decades on the big and small screens, appearing as a child in the “Our Gang” short films of the 1930s and 40s, then starring in a series of “Red Ryder” westerns in the 1940s.
He appeared with Humphrey Bogart in “Treasure of the Sierra Madre” in 1948 and appeared in films including “Pork Chop Hill” and “Town Without Pity.” He rose to stardom with his appearance in the 1967 crime noir thriller “In Cold Blood.”
He won an Emmy Award for best lead actor in a drama series for his turn as Tony Baretta in “Baretta,” which ran for four seasons on ABC in the late 1970s.
But despite his decades of success on screen, Blake is notoriously remembered for being accused in the death of his second wife, Bonny Lee Bakley, who was shot to death May 4, 2001, while sitting in Blake’s car outside Vitello’s restaurant in Studio City.
Blake insisted that his 44-year-old wife was shot while he went back inside the restaurant to retrieve a gun he carried for protection and had inadvertently left behind.
In March of 2005, Blake was acquitted by a jury of murder and solicitation of murder, while jurors deadlocked on a second solicitation count. The jury foreman told reporters there was simply no convincing evidence to warrant convicting him.
Prosecutors contended that Blake hated Bakley, who they described as a grifter who made her living scamming older male customers through a mail- order sex business. Blake’s attorney conceded that the actor did not love Bakley, calling their marriage one of convenience. But he said Blake was trying to work things out with his wife.
Although he was acquitted in the criminal trial, a civil court jury later that year found Blake liable for Bakley’s death and ordered him to pay her four children $30 million in damages.
According to Deadline, a private memorial service will be held. His family requested that donations in his name be made to City of Hope.
— City News Service