By People Staff
March 14, 2005 12:00 PM

Growing up as Robert Blake’s child “was equal parts cool and a pain,” says his only son, Noah, just 10 when his father hit it big on Baretta. Things changed even more dramatically for Noah and his younger sister Delinah in April 2002—when Robert was arrested for the murder of his second wife, Bonny Lee Bakley, 44, who had given birth to his daughter Rose on June 2, 2000. With the end of the trial looming, legal experts believe the case could swing either way for Blake, 71, who faces life in prison if convicted. Noah, 40, speaking about the case publicly for the first time since his father’s arrest, maintains that Robert is innocent—but admits that his dad is a tough guy with a hot temper and that the jury could find him guilty. The Los Angeles-based actor, who has been directing and producing a one-man show called American Esse premiering March 31 at the Tamarind Theatre in Hollywood and is also working on a screenplay with Esse cowriter Samantha Dunn for her new book Faith in Carlos Gomez, talked to correspondent Ken Lee about the trial and growing up Blake.

When I first saw my father several days after the murder, I asked him point-blank: “Did you have anything to do with this?” He looked me in the eyes and said, “Absolutely not.” I never needed to ask him again.

If he was capable of this murder, there would be 20,000 corpses lying around over the years—including my own—based on the fact that he probably threatened 20 or 30 people a week. That’s just how he operated: He put forth an image of a tough guy as a preemptive strike against anything that might come his way. Yet I have never in my life seen him get physically violent. He never threw things around the house. Between my mom [Sondra Kerr], who was an actress, and my dad, there was a lot of screaming and fighting going on. They separated numerous times and finally got divorced in the early ’80s.

Neither of my parents had a happy childhood, so I don’t think they had anything to model themselves upon in terms of what good parents should be. As a kid, I processed it as, “Here’s Dad, he’s a celebrity, here’s Mom, she’s a dutiful wife but angry that she sacrificed her career.” I remember we had a big, round water canteen that Dad used in the movies. He painted the words F—K FEAR in red letters. And for the rest of my childhood this mantra is going through my head. Because of it, I would have incredible shame wash over me when I would be afraid of something.

Regardless of what happens to him, I just hope my father realizes that, to some degree, he got himself into this mess. The cause of this whole ordeal was my father’s choice to be around Bonny. What’s sad is that he didn’t feel good enough about himself to be around better people. I don’t think my father is the same guy as when this all started. He’s told me as much. I think he’s letting go of some of that toughness, the fear, the insecurity.

I think he always sabotaged his own success. He had an addiction to darkness, turmoil. Whatever was going on in his life, there was always a problem: It was either the guys in the studio are a——-s or the director sucks, or he was fighting with my mom all the time. He could never just enjoy life. And that, to some degree, always made me afraid to enjoy life too.

In January 2004, I fell apart, the beginning of a major emotional breakdown that I’m still coming out of today. I was in the gym one day, and I started shaking. I broke out in a cold sweat, my heart was racing. I thought I was dying. I went to doctors, who said, “There’s nothing biologically wrong with you. Is there anything in your life causing you stress?” I didn’t say, “Yeah, Dad’s on trial for murder.” I had been in a fog, completely out of touch with how his trial was affecting me.

I was totally overwhelmed. I spent a month on the couch and couldn’t function. I didn’t know what was happening. I started reaching out to people—I was always the guy who was on top of things, who was insightful and wise, I never let myself need anything from anyone-the same stuff my dad did.

I think my father’s coping mechanism is to be completely engulfed with the trial. He’s in a bunker mentality. I don’t really know when he last saw Rose. He can’t leave the house anyway, so whatever he does to pass the time, it can only be an activity he can do there. He can’t ride horses, fish or

go for a walk.

I hope my father will be free to live his life. If he gets a second chance, maybe he can go out and do some good out there. I only hope that—whatever the outcome of this trial is—he’s at peace with himself inside.