Robert Blake Dies: ‘Baretta’ Actor Acquitted of Murdering His Wife Was 89

Robert Blake
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Emmy-winning actor Robert Blake died Thursday (March 9) at age 89, surrounded by family at his home in Los Angeles. His niece Noreen Austin said that he had been battling heart disease. Blake had a career lasting 60 years but will forever be remembered for the dramatic murder trial and his acquittal over the shooting death of his second wife Bonny Lee Bakley in 2001.

Blake’s best known role was as star of the ABC show Baretta in which he played undercover New York City detective Tony Baretta. It aired for four seasons in the mid 1970s. His quirky character was fond of disguises and carrying a pet cockatoo on his shoulder. The show had often quoted catchphrases, including “Don’t do the crime if you can’t do the time” and “You can take that to the bank.”

Following Blake’s death Alec Baldwin posted a tribute on Instagram, urging people to remember him as “an incredibly gifted actor” and not for his “dramatic legal entanglements.”


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As a child actor, known by his real name Mickey Gubitosi, Blake appeared in numerous movies from age 5, including Bridal Suite and the Our Gang comedy shorts from Laurel and Hardy producer Hal Roach. He then changed his name to Bobby (and eventually, Robert) Blake and went on to appear in films such as Treasure of the Sierra Madre (1948) with Humphrey BogartIn Cold Blood (1967) with John Forsythe, and Lost Highway (1997) with Bill Pullman and Patricia Arquette.

On TV, he also appeared in The Richard Boone Show, Have Gun – Will Traveland Hell Town. In 1977 he co-hosted the Primetime Emmy Awards with Angie Dickinson, and in 1982 he hosted an episode of Saturday Night Live. He was also a regular guest on The Tonight Show Starring Johnny Carson, and a pitchman for Geico, STP, and others.

His final TV role in 1993 was in Judgment Day: The John List Story, a fictionalized version of a true life crime in which a man murdered members of his family before assuming a new identity and eluding capture.

Blake was married three times and had three children. His first wife was actress Sondra Kerr, who he wed in 1961 before divorcing in 1983.

In 1999 he met Bonny Lee Bakley, who had been married at least nine times previously, and reportedly had a history of using aliases, dating older, wealthy men and celebrities. During her relationship with Blake, she started seeing Marlon Brando‘s son Christian Brando, and became pregnant, telling both men they were father of the child.

After a DNA test proved that the baby was Blake’s he tied the knot with Bakley on November 19, 2000. Less than six months later, on May 4, 2001, she was shot dead in Blake’s vehicle outside Vitello’s restaurant in Studio City, California, where the couple had been dining. Blake denied any involvement in the murder, telling police that at the time of his wife’s shooting he had gone back inside the restaurant to retrieve a handgun he had left on the floor of their booth. That pistol was later determined not to have been the murder weapon.

Blake was charged with Bakley’s murder in 2002, along with solicitation, conspiracy and lying in wait. A dramatic, televised, three-month trial beginning in December 2004 laid bare the couple’s explosive marriage. But Blake was found not guilty of the crimes. He was also found not guilty of soliciting a former stunt double who he met on the set of Baretta to kill his wife.


In November 2005 Bakley’s children won a wrongful-death lawsuit against Blake, and he was ordered to pay $30 million, which was cut to $15 million on appeal. Blake filed for bankruptcy in 2006. In 2012 Blake published his memoir “Tales of a Rascal: What I Did for Love.” During a 2012 interview on CNN’s Piers Morgan Tonight he became angry and defensive when questioned about the murder.

In recent years he lived a low-key life in Los Angeles. In 2017 he married his third wife, Pamela Hudak, but they divorced two years later. Bakley’s murder still officially remains unsolved.