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March 17, 2023

Actor Robert Blake died last week at home in Los Angeles, surrounded by family. He died peacefully of heart disease at 89.

Few actors leave as complicated a legacy as Blake. He had one of the longest careers in show business, starting in vaudeville as a child. He was one of the last surviving members of the “Our Gang” cast, coming in toward the end of the series as Mickey Gubitosi (his real name was Michael Gubitosi.) He also had childhood roles as Little Beaver in the Red Ryder series, and in the Bogart classic, “The Treasure of the Sierra Madre.” 

Blake was a brilliant actor but his intensity and volatile temperament, exacerbated by a childhood of physical abuse and studio exploitation, often caused problems for him. A rare example of a child actor who transitioned to a successful adult career, he gave memorable performances in such films as “Electra Glide in Blue” and the fact-based “In Cold Blood,” where his performance as a criminal who murders a family inspired Anthony Hopkins’ later portrayal of Hannibal Lecter.  

His greatest fame came in 1975, when he became the star of the TV detective series “Baretta.” With its cool theme song by Sammy Davis Jr. ( ) and his brilliant pet/sidekick, Fred the cockatoo* ( ), the show made Blake a top TV star and a fixture on kids’ lunchboxes.

Unfortunately, his career came to a screeching halt in 2001 when he was accused of shooting and killing his wife in his car outside a restaurant in Los Angeles. The trial was a media sensation; and even though Blake was adamant that he didn’t do it, and the jury acquitted him, he was found liable for her death in a civil trial, and the damages forced him to declare bankruptcy.

Blake said having his fans abandon him "hurt because America is the only family I had." But he actually had three children, who say he spent his final years listening to jazz, playing guitar and watching classic movies.  

* (FOOTNOTE) The popularity of “Baretta” actually had an indirect effect on me and my wife, fellow writer Laura Ainsworth. Baretta’s amazing cockatoo Fred was so popular, he made cockatoos, and parrots in general, highly popular as pets even to this day. Unfortunately, most people don’t realize that they are very smart, require a ton of attention, and can live up to 70 years. Many of them end up in avian shelters that are desperate for funds. We love birds and for years have supported these shelters, and we currently share our home with 12 rescued exotic birds, including three cockatoos. We love them, but people should know that having a cockatoo is like having a very smart, mischievous, extremely loud four-year-old who never grows up and occasionally bites you.

If you love parrots and think you have what it takes to give one a loving home, please consider adopting from a shelter. Don’t overlook those who are disabled, or who have been injured or abused, or who have plucked out their feathers from fear and stress. They need love the most, and we can attest that with a little care and patience, they can become the best pets you've ever had.

For more information, check out some of the great parrot shelters we support, online or on Facebook. There are many, but start with the Oasis Sanctuary in Arizona, Wings of Love Bird Haven south of Dallas, and Rickie’s Parrot Rescue in Florida, which is especially close to our hearts because they take in special needs birds who need expensive vet care, so they could really use your support.  Our parrots say, "Thank you! Thank you! Thank you!"

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