Robert Blake, Controversial Emmy-Winning Actor Accused Of Murder, Has Died

Robert Blake, one of the first child stars to transition to acting as an adult and later accused of murdering his wife, has passed away at the age of 89.

By Jonathan Klotz | Published

Robert Blake, the Emmy-winning Best Actor for Baretta, has passed away at the age of 89. Deadline reported the news, which the actor’s niece Noreen confirmed earlier today. From 1939 through 1997, the actor was a constant force in movies and television, even hosting Saturday Night Live in 1982, with one of the longest Hollywood careers ever, until he was accused of murdering his wife in 2001.

Starting as an actor at age five, Blake first appeared in the film Bridal Suite before transitioning to the Our Gang shorts, better known as The Little Rascals. The Italian star then had a series of Native American roles in the Red Ryder franchise, followed by playing a Mexican boy in the Humphrey Bogart classic Treasure of the Sierra Madre. A promising career as a child star ended when he joined the United States Army, resulting in an addiction to cocaine at the end of his five-year tour of duty.

Robert Blake slowly worked his way back into westerns, but it was in 1967 that he had his career breakout as Perry Smith in an adaptation of Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood. The role gave Blake the distinction of being the first actor to say “Bullsh*t” in a feature film. Eight years and many more films later, the television series Baretta took his career to new heights.

In 1975 he won the Emmy for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series and was nominated again in 1977. The procedural series was a massive hit for NBC, spinning off of the series Toma, and ran from 1975 through 1978. Blake focused back on the movies after the series was canceled, getting two more Lead Actor nominations before filming his final movie in 1997.

Robert Blake as one of The Little Rascals

Lost Highway, a David Lynch film, was never supposed to be his final film. When Bonnie Lee Bakley was found shot dead outside of the Italian restaurant where the couple had just dined, Robert Blake’s career was over. The star was arrested in 2002 and charged with the murder of his second wife in the biggest celebrity murder trial since O.J. Simpson.

Blake’s criminal trial was a rollercoaster because two men came forward and claimed the actor had paid them to kill his wife. Robert Hambelton and Gary McLarty were both retired stuntmen that agreed to testify against Blake in exchange for a lesser sentence. In a high-profile example of the CSI effect, following how the procedural series warped the public’s expectations for evidence, the actor’s legal team argued that the lack of gunpowder on his clothing meant he could not have pulled the trigger.

The sensational details of the trial haunted him and prevented any studio from approaching him again, but that didn’t stop him from releasing a biography, The Life of a Rascal. Whether Robert Blake was guilty or not, he was acquitted of murder in 2005 and lived out the rest of his life quietly in Hollywood, engaging in his love for poetry and jazz music.

In recent years, Blake slowly emerged into public life, even starting his own YouTube channel where he shared stories of his decades in Hollywood. Quentin Tarantino based Brad Pitt’s character in Once Upon A Time In Hollywood off of Blake, even dedicating the novel based on the film to the Baretta star. Robert Blake is survived by his children, Noah, Delinah, and Rose.