The star of the hit 1970s show Baretta, Robert Blake, has passed away aged 89, his family announced yesterday (March 9th). A statement shared on behalf of his niece, Noreen Austin, revealed that the actor had died from heart disease surrounded by family at his home in Los Angeles.
An Emmy-Winning actor, his career took a nosedive in the early 2000’s after he was tried and acquitted for killing his wife, Bonny Lee Bakley, outside a Studio City restaurant in 2001. Blake had always maintained that he wanted a comeback but never recovered from the controversy.
In a 2002 interview with The Associated Press when he was in jail and awaiting trial, Blake discussed the incident and lamented how his public image had changed since Bakely’s death. He said: “It hurt because America is the only family I had.”
Throughout the trial, Blake asserted that he had not killed his wife, with the jury eventually acquitting him. However, a civil jury found him liable for “wrongful death”, and ordered him to pay Bakely’s family $30m (£25m). This judgement bankrupted him.
Blake had been a star since childhood. When young, he had a lead role in the final years of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer’s Our Gang series of comedy shorts from 1939 to 1944. Elsewhere, during the early years of his career, he starred in the 1948 western The Treasure of the Sierra Madre.
Then, as an experienced adult actor, he played real-life murderer Perry Smith in the 1967 movie adaptation of Truman Capote’s book In Cold Blood. However, the crowning moment of his career was the cop series Baretta from 1975-78. Memorably, his character, police detective Anthony Vincenzo “Tony” Baretta, carried his pet cockatoo on his shoulder. His signature line was: “Don’t do the crime if you can’t do the time”, a famous quip.
Blake won a 1975 Emmy for his role as Tony Baretta, despite tales of his tempestuous nature on set emerging.