Oscars 2023: Jimmy Kimmel Sparked Awkward Laughs With Robert Blake In Memoriam Joke

Jimmy Kimmel cracked a joke about the late Robert Blake at the Oscars on Sunday night, but it didn't quite land for everybody. Blake passed away just last week on Thursday, March 9 at the age of 89. However, Blake hadn't acted in nearly two decades, as the allegations that he had murdered his wife had overshadowed his long career.

Kimmel hosted the 2023 Academy Awards, and he fit his joke about Blake in between presentations shortly before the "In Memoriam" segment. He invited viewers in the audience and at home to vote via text message whether Blake should appear in the "In Memoriam" segment, parodying the kind of voting schemes used on reality TV shows. The joke got a laugh from the live audience and some viewers at home, though everyone seemed to sense it would be divisive at once.

"In poor taste to be sure," wrote one person on Twitter. Another admitted: "Robert Blake joke made me chuckle," while a third wrote: "literally guffawed at the Robert Blake joke, good joke!" Critics were a bit more wordy in their dislike of this wisecrack. One person pointed out that it would likely distract many viewers from the "In Memoriam" segment itself, detracting from the tributes to other industry professionals.

"Not terribly fond of jokes about someone's death," they wrote. Another person added: "Whatever you think of Robert Blake, this was another nominee for worst moment of this ceremony."

Blake got his first role as a child star in 1939 and continued to act professionally for decades to come. He married and had two children in the 1960s, and both went on to become actors as well. In 2000, Blake remarried to Bonny Lee Bakley, but she was murdered in May of 2001. Blake was arrested, with the police's leading theory being that he had hired his own bodyguard to murder Bakley.

Blake was charged with murder with one count of special circumstances, two counts of solicitation of murder and one count of conspiracy to commit murder. After a long and contentious trial, Blake was found not guilty on all charges. However, Bakley's three children from previous marriages filed a civil suit against Blake holding him responsible for the wrongful death of Bakley. He was found liable and forced to pay $30 million in damages, landing him in bankruptcy.

Blake stayed out of the public eye for the most part in the years that followed, but his story remained a cultural touchstone that comedians like Kimmel could reliably reference. The story may have been further from the public consciousness this weekend had it not been for Blake's recent passing. So far, Kimmel has not responded to critics of this particular joke.