Blake’s most prominent role was playing the savvy New York City undercover detective fond of disguises, Tony Baretta, who carried a pet cockatoo on his shoulder, in the “Baretta” cop series that ran on ABC from 1975 to 1978. This role earned him an Emmy award for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series in 1975 and a Golden Globe Award in 1976.
He earlier had roles in movies such as “Treasure of the Sierra Madre,” a 1948 western with actor Humphrey Bogart, and “In Cold Blood,” a 1967 adaptation of the popular Truman Capote book.
Off-screen, however, Blake’s acting career was overshadowed by his entanglement in the murder trial of his wife, Bonny Lee Bakley, who was shot in 2001.
Blake told police that after eating dinner in a Los Angeles restaurant he had gone back to the restaurant to retrieve a handgun he had left there — and returned to find his wife, 44, bleeding from gunshot wounds in their nearby car.
Prosecutors contended that he had tried to hire hit men to murder his wife before eventually committing the crime himself. Blake did not take the stand in his criminal trial and always maintained his innocence. After a sensational three-month trial in 2005, which drew significant media attention, he was acquitted.
However, a jury in a later civil lawsuit for wrongful death brought by Bakley’s family found him liable for his wife’s death. He was ordered to pay $30 million, a sum that was later reduced. Blake filed for bankruptcy.
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Born Michael James Gubitosi on Sept. 18, 1933 in Nutley, New Jersey, according to the Associated Press, Blake moved to California at a young age with his parents and family.
He broke into Hollywood at age five, dancing in shows alongside his two siblings, before he caught the eye of studio casting directors who selected him for a role in the short comedy film series, “Our Gang,” also known as “The Little Rascals.” That role helped launch his career, as he went on to star in more than 200 feature and short films, according to his family. He also briefly served in the army.
His last prominent acting role was in David Lynch’s 1997 movie, “Lost Highway,” about a man accused of killing his wife.
In 2011, Blake penned a memoir entitled “Tales of a Rascal: What I Did for Love” detailing his career and life. Shortly after, he appeared on CNN, where he told British journalist Piers Morgan he did not particularly wish to discuss the case, telling Morgan his wife’s death is “not the most significant thing in my life.”
In later years, Blake lived in Los Angeles and enjoyed jazz, playing his guitar and reading poetry, his family said.
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Timothy Bella contributed to this report.