Robert Blake, the Emmy-winning film and television star who participated in over half a century’s worth of Hollywood history, has died at the age of 89. The news was confirmed by the Associated Press.
Born in New Jersey in 1933, Blake began working in film as a child actor in the late 1930s. His first onscreen role came in the form of an uncredited appearance in Wilhelm Thiele’s 1939 film “Bridal Suite.” He continued to work steadily throughout the 1940s and 1950s, memorably appearing as a child selling lottery tickets who gets a drink thrown in his face in 1948’s “The Treasure of the Sierra Madre.”
Blake was one of the first child stars to successfully transition into adult roles. After a string of guest spots on popular 1960s TV shows, he was working as a leading man by the end of the decade. He memorably played Perry in Richard Brooks’ 1967 adaptation of “In Cold Blood,” which remained one of his most recognizable film roles.
Blake quickly built on that success, and the 1970s elevated him to television stardom. He played Detective Tony Baretta on “Baretta” beginning in 1975, earning two Emmy nominations and one win for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series for his work on the procedural.
Blake continued to act throughout the 1980s and 1990s, making his final appearance as the Mystery Man in David Lynch’s “Lost Highway” in 1997. But the turn of the century saw him thrown back into the zeitgeist when his second wife, Bonny Lee Bakley, was found dead outside a Los Angeles restaurant in 2001. Blake became a suspect in her mysterious death and was charged with one count of murder, two counts of solicitation of murder and one count of conspiracy to commit murder.
Blake’s highly publicized, three-month murder trial ultimately resulted in his acquittal, with the actor memorably weeping into his lawyer’s shoulder after the jury delivered the news. Bakley’s children went on to file a civil suit against Blake for what they still saw as his role in their mother’s death, and a jury ultimately found Blake liable and ordered him to pay $30 million to the family.
Blake maintained a low profile in his final years, though he did begin to discuss the murder trial publicly in selected media appearances starting in 2019. Quentin Tarantino’s “Once Upon a Time… in Hollywood” novel is dedicated to Blake, and many have pointed out the similarities between Blake and the character of Cliff Booth, who was also the subject of a rumor that he killed his wife.
Blake is survived by his three children.