Tony Dow, who helped create the popular and enduring image of the American teen of the 1950s and ’60s as Wally Cleaver on the sitcom Leave It to Beaver, has died at the age of 77.
Rank 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.
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 did not get her into show business. Pushed.
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.
“Tony was not only my brother on TV, but in many ways in life as well. He leaves a blank in my heart that will not be filled,” Mathers said in a Facebook post on Wednesday.
“Tony was always the kindest, most generous, gentle, loving, honest and humble person, and it was an honor and a privilege to be able to share memories with him for 65 years.”
On the show, Wally, sometimes himself the center of the plot, navigated the worlds of junior high and high school—his two-faced best friend Eddie Haskell—with little more wisdom than his younger brother.
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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.
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 mother June Cleaver, died 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 serve as a director in television in the 1990s on shows including The New Lassie, Babylon 5, Harry and the Henderson and Star Trek: Deep Space Nine.
He was also well known in the UK for his work as a director on Only Fools and Horses.
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, son Christopher, daughter-in-law Melissa and brother Dion.