The ‘Baretta’ Star Who Faced Murder Charges Was 89

Former child star Robert Blake, one of the members of the early Our Gang film shorts to find success as an adult actor, died Wednesday at his Los Angeles home after a long battle with heart disease. His niece, Noreen Austin, confirmed the news. He was 89.

Born Michael James Gubitosi on September 18, 1933 in Nutley, New Jersey, Blake began acting at the age of five under his birth name in the final years of the Our Gang (aka Little Rascals) short film series, then produced by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer. He continued as a child actor in the Red Ryder film franchise.

After a stint in the United States Army, Blake returned to his acting root, both in film and on television, while battling a documented two-year addiction to heroin and cocaine. After turning down the role of “Little” Joe Cartwright om NBC’s long-running western Bonanza (which Michael Landon filled, of course). Blake made the rounds as a guest star in TV dramas like The Californians, Black Saddle, Playhouse 90, Bat Masterson, Wagon Train, Laramie and Ben Casey.

He also appeared in numerous theatricals, including The Purple Gang (1960), Pork Chop Hill (1959), Town Without Pity (1961), Ensign Pulver (1964), and The Greatest Story Ever Told. And he was a recurring member of TV’s The Richard Boone Show. But it was the 1967 theatrical In Cold Blood as real-life murderer Perry Smith that was his first breakout role.

In 1975, when ABC was in search of a replacement for Tony Musante in the crime drama Toma, the series morphed into Baretta with Robert Blake. It lasted four seasons and Blake won the Emmy Award that year for Outstanding Lead Actor in a Drama Series.

Later in his career, Blake received Emmy nominations for the limited series Blood Feud in 1983 and the TV movie Judgement Day: The John List Story in 1993.

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