In his first interview since his acquittal on murder charges last week, TV tough guy Robert Blake told ABC News' Barbara Walters that he had essentially given up hope over the past years.
"I'd gotten so brainwashed over the past five years," Blake told Walters in an exclusive interview today on "Good Morning America." "Being thought of as America's Saddam Hussein, I thought, 'Why not croak and get it over with? Go see the boss.' "
When his acquittal was announced, Blake said that the first thing that went through his mind was that "I was going to have to live again."
Blake, a former child actor who later became known for his tough-guy roles, is trying to move on with his life after his highly publicized trial. On March 16, a Los Angeles Superior Court jury acquitted Blake, 71, of murder and one count of solicitation to commit murder in the 2001 shooting death of his wife, Bonny Lee Bakley, after almost two weeks of deliberation.
The jury deadlocked 11-1 on a second solicitation count, which the judge then dismissed. If convicted, Blake could have faced a mandatory life sentence without parole.
Bakley, 44, was shot in the head on May 4, 2001, as she sat in their car after she and Blake dined at one of the actor's favorite restaurants. Los Angeles County prosecutors had argued that Blake tried to hire others to kill his wife, but then did it himself when he couldn't find anyone to carry out the murder.
Blake, best known for playing an unconventional cop on the 1970s TV drama "Baretta," married Bakley after DNA tests showed he was the father of her daughter Rosie. Prosecutors contend Blake killed Bakley to get her out of his life and prevent her from becoming a bad influence on the girl.
Blake did not testify at trial. But in various interviews before the trial -- including one with Walters in 2003 -- he denied any role in the killing. He said he left Bakley in the car that night and returned to the restaurant to retrieve a gun he had left at their table. When he came back to the car, he discovered his wife had been shot. Jurors saw Blake's interview with Walters during the trial.
In a rambling statement to reporters after his acquittal, Blake thanked his legal team, kissing one lawyer on the head and saying, "This small band of dedicated warriors saved my life." He also chided the media for getting distant relatives and casual acquaintances to comment on the case and on Blake's character.
Blake also thanked Walters and said that he could not have won his acquittal without her.
"Barbara Walters, God bless you, darling," Blake said. "I would have never got out of the joint without you. God bless you, Barbara, wherever you are."
In his interview with Walters today, Blake again effusively thanked her. "You saved my life," he said.
Blake says now that he's a free man, he plans to spend time "cowboying" with "real people."
"That means you just go out and you see all the people that you've been flying over all your life. All the people that send you mail, that pay the taxes," he said. "They got no agenda. All they're doing is living their lives and they bring you down. They bring you down and you know what's important."