Last night, 20/20 did a story on the career of Robert Blake and the murder of his 2nd wife, Bonnie Lee Blakely. Considering that Blake has not acted since 1997 and was acquitted of killing his wife 18 years ago, never let it be said that 20/20 is no longer a relevant news program.
I know Robert Blake best for his performance in Lost Highway and a bizarre appearance that he made on an episode of The Late Late Show with Tom Snyder in June of 1997. The interview, in which Blake rambled that he had a message for someone who he would not name, was strange enough that I can still remember seeing it over 20 years later. As The New York Post‘s Austin Smith wrote in 2001, after Blake was charged with murder, the actor had a history of memorable talk show appearances.
Unfortunately, Blake will always be best known for being accused of murdering his wife. He was acquitted at his criminal trial but found liable in a civil case. Blake was one of three celebrities to be accused of murder and, while I’ve always believed that O.J. Simpson and Phil Spector were guilty, I’ve always felt that Blake probably wasn’t. At the very least, I thought there was a stronger case for reasonable doubt than in the Simpson and Spector cases.
One thing that last night’s 20/20 did remind us of was that Blake could really act, which is something that has gotten lost in all of his subsequent infamy. Even though I think In Cold Blood is stolen by Scott Wilson, Blake still gives a very good performance as the more neurotic of the two murderers and his pre-execution monologue is a classic scene. He was also great in Electra Glide In Blue. Blake also turned down roles in some huge movies. He could have very easily have played Ratso Rizzo in Midnight Cowboy. Even before his murder trial, Blake was an actor who was often his own worst enemy. If not for his demons, he’d probably have a career similar to Robert Forster’s right now.