A longtime friend of actress Amanda Blake says she feared before she died last August that the AIDS disease she had contracted would affect her work in animal rights.
Pat Derby, the head of the Performing Animal Welfare Society refuge in Galt, said Tuesday that the actress knew she was fighting AIDS and feared negative publicity about it would harm her animal welfare causes.
"She wanted to use all of her energy for animals," Derby told the Sacramento Bee. "She was afraid that publicity about AIDS would diffuse everything she was doing. . . . She didn't want the tabloids hanging for the next symptom. She felt that she had limited time."
Blake, best known as "Miss Kitty" of television's popular "Gunsmoke" series, lived in Derby's home for two years before entering Mercy General Hospital in Sacramento three weeks before her death. She was 60.
Derby said few people outside the medical profession knew Blake was battling AIDS. She had undergone surgery for oral cancer in 1977, and her death certificate lists her cause of death as cardiopulmonary arrest brought on by liver failure due to hepatitis. It listed AIDS and head and neck cancer as contributing factors.
Dr. Lou Nishiumura, who treated Blake for about a year, said this week that Blake died of viral hepatitis stemming from her yearlong fight with AIDS. He said Blake never told him how she became infected with the fatal disease. He said the actress was not a user of drug needles and hadn't contracted AIDS through a blood transfusion.
Blake left her estate, principally a $400,000 home in Los Angeles, to Derby's animal refuge. However, her only surviving relatives--her mother, sister and two cousins -- are contesting the will, which was executed only three days before Blake died. They contend that Blake actually wanted to leave her estate to them, but was vulnerable to Derby's influence because she was so seriously ill.
Derby repeated Tuesday that she "had nothing to do with" Blake's decision.