Tony Dow, the actor and director best known for playing the stalwart older brother Wally Cleaver to Jerry Mathers’ Beaver in the iconic series “Leave It to Beaver,” has died. He was 77.
His official Facebook page posted that he died Tuesday morning. “It is with an extremely heavy heart that we share with you the passing of our beloved Tony this morning. Tony was a beautiful soul – kind, compassionate, funny and humble,” read the message from his management team.
Dow and his wife Lauren announced in May that his cancer, which he had been diagnosed with years before, had returned.
Dow was born in Hollywood and his mother was an early stunt woman and double for Clara Bow. He was a Junior Olympics diving champion, but didn’t have much showbiz experience when he tagged along with a friend and ended up auditioning for and winning the role of Wally. “Leave it to Beaver” began airing in 1957 and ran until 1963. The popular black-and-white sitcom, centered around the typical idealized family of the time, followed the adventures of mischievous young Beaver, his practical brother Wally, their devious friend Eddie Haskell, and their long-suffering but understanding parents played by Barbara Billingsley and Hugh Beaumont.
The show’s writers, Bob Mosher and Joe Connelly, based on the characters on their own children, incorporating such details as Wally’s constant hair-combing they observed in their own teenagers. As the show came to an end, Wally was about to start college while Beaver was ready for high school.
Dow returned in the 1980s for the TV movie “Still the Beaver” and series “The New Leave It to Beaver,” for which he also directed five episodes and wrote one.
He moved into writing, producing and directing while continuing to act, and helmed several episodes of “Harry and the Hendersons,” “Coach,” “Babylon 5,” “Honey I Shrunk the Kids” and an episode of “Star Trek: Deep Space Nine.”
After “Leave It to Beaver,” Dow appeared on series including “General Hospital,” “Mr. Novak,” “Never Too Young,” “Lassie,” “Love, American Style,” “Square Pegs” and “The Love Boat,” on which he played himself. He also played himself in the 2003 comedy “Dickie Roberts: Former Child Star,” which featured cameos of dozens of former young actors, and appeared in the John Landis skit comedy feature “The Kentucky Fried Movie.”
Dow battled depression in his 20s, making the self-help video “Beating the Blues” to help others, and later survived two bouts of cancer. He also became a sculptor and started a construction company.
He is survived by his wife Lauren and two children.