Blake was a heavy cigarette smoker and had surgery for oral cancer in 1977. She became a supporter of the American Cancer Society and made fundraising appearances throughout the country. In 1984, she was the recipient of the society’s annual Courage Award, which was presented to her by then U.S. President Ronald Reagan. Blake died at age 60 on August 16, 1989, at Mercy General Hospital in Sacramento, California. The popular media later widely reported that Blake’s doctor claimed that she had actually died of AIDS. Her close friends have insisted that she was not a drug user or sexually promiscuous, and that she may have acquired the disease from a former husband. Blake’s official death certificate stated the cause of death as: “Cardio-pulmonary arrest due to liver failure and CMV Hepatitis”.
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