Tony Dow, who helped create the popular and enduring image of 1950s and ’60s American teens as Wally Cleaver in the sitcom Leave It to Beaver, died Wednesday. He was 77 years old.
Frank Bilotta, who represented Dow in his work as a sculptor, confirmed his death in an email to the Associated Press.
No reason was given, but Dow was in hospice care and announced in May that he had been diagnosed with prostate and gallbladder cancer.
Dow’s son Christopher said in a post on his father’s official Facebook page, “Although it is a very sad day, I have comfort and peace that he is in a better place.” “He was the best father anyone could ask for. He was my coach, my mentor, my voice of reason, my best friend, my best man at my wedding, and my hero.
A post on Dow’s Facebook page on Tuesday reported that he had died prematurely, but his wife and management team later deleted the post, explaining that it was declared in error.
Dows Valley was the often annoyed but inevitably loving older brother who frequented the show as the title character, Theodore “Beaver” Cleaver, played by Jerry Mathers, who was synonymous with the sometimes hokey, wholesome image of a 1950s American family. .
Dow was born and raised in the Hollywood section of Los Angeles—his mother was a stuntwoman who worked as a double for silent film star Clara Bow—but her parents didn’t push her into show business .
He did just a little bit of stage acting and appeared in a pair of pilots. After attending an open casting call, she landed her career-defining role as Wally.
Dow played the role on primetime on CBS and ABC for six seasons and over 200 episodes from 1957 to 1963, then in a syndicated sequel series for over 100 episodes in the 1980s.
On the show, Wally, sometimes the center of the plot himself, navigated the worlds of junior high and high school — his two-faced best friend Eddie Haskell — with little more wisdom than his younger brother. The show’s plot suggested that Wally was bound for great things—he mentions a desire to be an aerospace engineer—and that he finds himself in moral dilemmas that stem from his essential goodness.
Dow’s favorite episode was the one in which Ward Cleaver, the always ready father played by Hugh Beaumont, wants his boys to know what his childhood was like. He leads them into the woods, despite what they had at home that was pressing business.
“The boys didn’t want to go because zombies from outer space were playing in the theater,” Dow said in a 2018 interview with Sidevox Entertainment at Silicon Valley Comic-Con.
After the trip, at the end of the episode, Ward locates the boys with binoculars on top of a hill, thinking they are taking in something in nature.
“They were seeing zombies from outer space at the drive-in,” Dow said with a laugh.
The show was still popular when it went off the air, but it naturally ended with Wally going off to college and Beavers bound for high school.
After Dow’s death, Mathers and Rusty Stevens, who played Beaver’s friend Larry Mondello, were the only surviving members of the show’s main cast. Beaumont died in 1982. Barbara Billingsley, who played Wally and the Beaver’s mother, June Cleaver, passed away in 2010. Ken Osmond, who played Haskell, passed away in 2020.
Dow would appear as a guest star in other TV series in the 1960s, 70s and 80s, including My Three Sons, Dr. Kildare, Adam-12, Emergency, Square Pegs and Knight Rider.
He took a break from acting in the late 1960s to serve three years in the US National Guard.
From 1983 to 1989, in the midst of a cultural frenzy for nostalgia television, Dow reprized the role of Wally in The New Leave It to Beaver.
He began writing and directing episodes of that series, and would go on to television as a director in the 1990s on shows including The New Lassie, Babylon 5, Harry and Hendersonsand Star Trek: Deep Space Nine.
At a time when such revelations were rare, Dow went public with his clinical depression in the 1980s and made self-help videos on how to acknowledge and deal with the illness.
Dow worked as an artist, gaining an outstanding reputation as a sculptor, with appearances in later years at pop culture conventions, often with Mather.
A bronze piece of his was accepted into the 2008 Société Nationale des Beaux-Arts, a 150-year-old art show held annually in the Louvre.
Dow told the Associated Press in 2012 that his inauguration brought out people eager to see his art work side by side with Beaver’s older brother.
“I think it’s hard, especially with the Wally image, to be taken seriously on anything other than that,” she said with a chuckle and nod.
Dow is survived by his wife of 42 years, Lauren; his son, Christopher; his daughter-in-law, Melissa; and his brother Dion.