Amanda Blake was an American actress best known for her role as Miss Kitty Russell on the popular TV series “Gunsmoke.” Born on February 20, 1929, in Buffalo, New York, Blake’s parents divorced when she was just 5 years old, and she was raised by her grandmother in Claremont, California. Blake’s love for animals started at a young age, and she spent most of her childhood surrounded by pets.
After finishing high school, Blake moved to Los Angeles and started working as a telephone operator. She soon began to model and landed her first acting role in the film “Stars in My Crown” in 1950. She then appeared in several small film roles before landing her big break as Miss Kitty Russell in “Gunsmoke” in 1955. Blake played the role for 19 seasons and became one of the most beloved characters on television.
Despite her success on “Gunsmoke,” Blake’s personal life was not without challenges. She married four times, with all of her marriages ending in divorce. In 1964, she married Jason Day, a city councilman from Burbank, California, and became active in politics herself, campaigning for several Democratic candidates. However, their marriage ended in 1982 after 18 years, reportedly due to Blake’s heavy drinking.
Blake’s life took a tragic turn when she was diagnosed with oral cancer in 1977. She underwent surgery and radiation therapy, but the cancer returned in 1984. She kept her illness a secret and continued to work on “Gunsmoke” until 1975 and on other television shows and films, including “The Boost” and “Busting Loose.”
In 1989, Blake’s health took a turn for the worse, and she was hospitalized in San Juan Capistrano, California. Despite her failing health, she remained in good spirits and joked with her visitors. She passed away on August 16, 1989, at the age of 60, due to complications from AIDS-related complications. Her death shocked her fans and colleagues, as she had kept her diagnosis a secret.
It was later revealed that Blake had contracted HIV from her fourth husband, Mark Spaeth, who was bisexual and had passed away from AIDS-related complications in 1985. Blake’s family and friends have since stated that she accepted her fate and did not want to be remembered as a victim of the disease.
In the wake of Blake’s death, her legacy as an actress and animal rights activist has continued. She was an avid animal lover and was involved in several animal welfare organizations, including the ASPCA and the Humane Society of the United States. In 1990, a year after her death, a shelter for abused and neglected animals was opened in her honor in the San Fernando Valley.
In conclusion, Amanda Blake’s life was full of highs and lows. She achieved great success as an actress and animal rights activist but also faced personal struggles, including multiple failed marriages and a battle with cancer. Her decision to keep her HIV diagnosis a secret until her death has added to the mystique surrounding her life and legacy. However, her dedication to animal welfare and her memorable performance as Miss Kitty Russell on “Gunsmoke” have ensured that she will be remembered as a beloved figure in American television history.