Actor Tony Dow, who played America’s big brother as big brother Wally Cleaver in the TV classic sitcom Leave It to Beaver, died today. He was 77 years old and was battling cancer.
A statement on his Facebook page read-Tony Dow:
“It is with a very heavy heart that we share with you this morning about the passing of our beloved Tony.
Tony was a beautiful soul – kind, kind, funny and humble. It was indeed a pleasure to be around him. Her soft voice and simple manner were instantly comforting and you couldn’t help but love her. The world has lost a wonderful man, but we are all richer for the memories he left us. From the warm memories of Wally Cleaver to those of us lucky enough to know him personally – thank you, Tony. And thanks for the reflection of an easier time, the laughter, the friendship, and the feeling that you were a big brother to all of us. we will miss you.”
Jerry Mathers Remembers ‘Leave It To Beaver’ Brother Tony Dow: “Tony Dow Leaves An Empty Space In My Heart”
Tony Dow played the affable, protective Wally to Jerry Mathers’ Theodore “Beaver” Cleaver on the quintessential family sitcom of the late 1950s and early ’60s (the series ran in primetime from 1957–63 and has played in syndication since Has been). The two boys, whose weekly adventures and light-hearted trouble set the tone for the fraternal siblings of the era, were the sons of June and Ward Cleaver (Barbara Billingsley and Hugh Beaumont).
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Wally was often the Beaver’s savior against the big boy’s best friend, the two-faced wise man Eddie Haskell (Ken Osmond, who died in 2020).
As the series progressed, Dow aged into a teenage heartthrob, with episodes increasingly focusing on his high school romance and the mischievous activities of star Mathers Beaver. Watch Mathers talk about the Dow in an interview for the Television Academy Foundation:(Tony Dow)
Last week, Tony Dow’s Facebook page noted the actor’s health battle, posting: “As we’re sure you can imagine, it’s been a rollercoaster of ups and downs as Tony continues his battle with cancer. Toni has been in and out of the hospital with various complications and treatments. He and [wife] Lauren are trying to maintain a positive spirit, although it proves difficult at times. All your love and concern for sure Helps narrow it down, and we thank you for that. We’ll post again when there’s more to report. Until then, keep the good ideas coming.”
Tony Dow, who inspired acting in his later years to become a well-known and successful sculptor, was born in Hollywood on April 13, 1945, and initially focused on swimming and diving. He was a junior Olympic diving champion before participating in a casting call for the show, which would be Leave It to Beaver.
Although Wally was and will be his signature role, Dow continued to act after the series’ closure, appearing in other TV series including My Three Sons, Dr. Kildare and Mr. Novak. He left acting temporarily for several years to serve in the National Guard in the late 1960s. Later, he starred in episodic shows such as Adam-12, Knight Rider, Square Pegs, and The Hardy Boys.
He reprized his most famous role in the updated 1980s series The New Leave It to Beaver and wrote an episode of that series.
Like Mathers and other child actors of that age, Tony Dow would face a challenge in breaking the typecasting that pegged him as the ever-healthy, popular, and good-natured Wally. Some of his later appearances played his famous character: for example, in 2003, he featured in the comedy Dickie Roberts: Former Child Star.
During the 1970s he supplemented his acting career with jobs in construction and developed his skills in woodworking and homebuilding. He would settle down with his wife, Lauren, to life in an artistic community in the Santa Monica Mountains.
In his show business career, Tony Dow eventually moved on to directing, beginning with a 1989 episode of The New Lassie. Other directing credits include Get a Life, Harry and the Henderson, Coach, Babylon 5 – starring fellow former child star Billy Mumiy – Crusade and Star Trek: Deep Space Nine.
In the early 2000s, Tony Dow began channeling her energy into creating artworks, developing a style for sculpting abstract designs using wood found in the hills surrounding her home, Which he will then turn into bronze. He was one of three United States sculptors selected for the 2008 Société Nationale des Beaux-Arts exhibition at the Louvre.
“My goal,” he said, “was to live a creative life from the time I was old enough to think things through.”
Tony Dow was an outspoken advocate for people living with depression and described their struggles with the illness in a series of self-help videos.
Earlier this year on CBS Sunday Morning, Dow reflected on his bouts with clinical depression, saying, “Depression isn’t something you can say ‘cheer up’ about.” He said that his early experience with the disease, while in his 20s, stemmed from his conflicting feelings about his early fame.
“I think my anger stems from a lack of control at the Beaver Show,” he said, “and also something I was known to do when I was 12, a kid, and now he’s 20. Was a person in the K’s. Does things but never got recognized for what I did. Anger, if it’s not treated, turns into depression. Anger turned inward.”
Dow is survived by his wife of 42 years, Lauren Schulkind, son Christopher (from his first marriage to Carol Marlowe), a brother, and a granddaughter.