Robert Blake, the controversial actor best known for In Cold Blood, Lost Highway, and the Baretta TV series, has died at 89.
It was announced today that controversial actor Robert Blake has died at the age of 89. His niece, Noreen Austin, confirmed that he died at his Los Angeles home after a longtime battle with heart disease. Blake was best known for his roles in Richard Brooks’ adaptation of Truman Capote’s In Cold Blood, David Lynch’s Lost Highway, and for starring in the 1970s detective series Baretta.
Robert Blake got his start as a child actor, appearing as Mickey in forty installments of MGM’s Our Gang short films. He also played Little Beaver in twenty-three installments of the Red Ryder film series. He also appeared in The Treasure of the Sierra Madre as a young Mexican boy who sells a lottery ticket to Humphrey Bogart. Although many child actors can’t transition to adult roles, Blake managed to pull it off. His biggest break came with In Cold Blood, where he played real-life murderer Perry Smith. Blake starred alongside Scott Wilson, who played Richard “Dick” Hickock, and the film received rave reviews, even earning four Academy Award Nominations, including Best Picture and Best Adapted Screenplay.
Robert Blake went on to appear in movies such as Pork Chop Hill, The Purple Gang, PT 109, The Greatest Story Ever Told, This Property Is Condemned, Tell Them Willie Boy Is Here, Corky, Busting, Coast to Coast, Money Train, and more. His final role was that of The Mystery Man in David Lynch’s Lost Highway.
The actor also appeared in TV shows such as Have Gun – Will Travel, Wagon Train, Naked City, Laramie, Rawhide, The F.B.I, and more, but his biggest small-screen role was that of Detective Anthony Vincenzo “Tony” Baretta in Baretta. The character was an unconventional detective and master of disguise who lived in a run-down hotel with Fred, his pet cockatoo. Blake earned an Emmy Award for his performance.
Blake also starred in Hell Town as a hard-living Catholic priest living in a crime-ridden Los Angeles neighbourhood but quit the series after realizing his life was spiralling out of control. “I was living on sleeping pills and junk food,” Blake told The Los Angeles Times in 1992. “I was overweight. My face was puffy and I had old, sad eyes. I would get in the limo to go to the ‘Hell Town’ location every morning and I’d be so uptight I could hardly breathe. My heart hurt, my soul hurt. I’ve always been a fierce competitor and a perfectionist, but during ‘Hell Town’ I only remember being terrified. One morning I realized I was only days–maybe hours–away from sticking a gun in my mouth and pulling the trigger.“
Of course, when most think of Robert Blake, they remember the high-profile murder trial in which he was accused of the murder of his life, Bonny Lee Bakley. The couple had been court for dinner at Vitello’s Italian Restaurant, and Bonny was fatally shot in the head while sitting in Blake’s vehicle. The actor claimed that he wasn’t present during the shooting as he claimed he had returned to the restaurant to collect a gun he’d left inside. After a lengthy trial, Blake was found not guilty but was later found liable for the wrongful death of Bonny in a civil case and ordered to pay $30 million.