Robert Blake, ‘Baretta’ & ‘Our Gang’ Star Acquitted of Murder, Dies @ 89

March 9, 2023

Via ExtraTV: Robert Blake, whose nearly 60-year career was overshadowed by a seamy murder trial — and acquittal — died Thursday, March 9, 2023, at his L.A. home of heart disease. He was 89.

Fred on top (Image via TV Guide)

Blake was born Michael James Gubitosi in Nutley, New Jersey, on September 18, 1933. Recruited into a child act with his siblings dubbed the Three Little Hillbillies, his career in films was launched when his parents moved the family to L.A

Blake would later characterize his childhood as a nightmare, saying his parents had been sexually abusive toward him, but the truth was hidden by his wide smile as Mickey in the Our Gang series. He appeared in 40 shorts from 1939-1949, and was among its very last survivors at the time of his death.

A photo "Mickey" signed to Buckheat (Image via Heritage Auctions)

He continued to act on TV and in movies throughout his youth and his adulthood, including appearing in a series of Red Ryder films for Republic and in such movies as The Big Noise (1944), Humoresque (1946), The Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948), Pork Cop Hill (1959) and Town Without Pity (1961).

He was widely praised for his chilling portrayal of murderer Perry Smith in the film adaptation of In Cold Blood in 1967, but was household-name famous as a plainclothes cop on TV's Baretta (1975-1978). A different kind of law enforcement agent, he wore jeans and babied a cockatoo named Fred.

He also won the Emmy for it.

Other work included the short-lived series Hell Town (1985) and films like 1980's Coast to Coast.

Later in his career, he appeared in the hit Money Train (1995), and he ended his on-screen work with Lost Highway (1997).

Addiction issues and a fiery temper precluded further work, but it was the 2001 murder of his wife that sealed the deal. Bonny Lee Bakley (1956-2001), noted as a scammer of older men with money, wound up pregnant while seeing Blake, and told both him and Christian Brando (1958-2008) they were the father.

When paternity was nailed down to Blake, he married Bakley — becoming her tenth husband.

A tumultuous marriage ended in April 4, 2001, when the couple went out to eat at Vitello's, an Italian eatery in Studio City, California. Bakley was shot to death while seated in her husband's car, and Blake claimed he'd been away for a few minutes retrieving a firearm he'd left in the restaurant. (There was a gun there, and it was not the murder weapon.)

The case that launched countless books, tabloid stories and TV reports. (Image via Barnes & Noble)

He was arrested and tried, but he beat all charges thanks to a lack of forensic evidence, and in spite of two witnesses admitting he'd once asked them to dispose of Bakley.

Though he was acquitted in 2005, he was found civilly liable to the tune of $15 million that same year, forcing him into bankruptcy.

Since then, Blake had kept a relatively low profile, though once made an outrageous appearance at an autograph show in Burbank, storming out of the event to sign autographs in the parking lot, and had launched a YouTube and a website at various times to announce he was still alive.

Blake is survived by his daughter with Bakley, Rosie aka Rose Lenore, who in 2019 came forward to discuss her mother's mysterious murder.

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