Tony Dow, who delighted audiences as big brother Wally Cleaver on the ‘50s and ‘60s sitcom “Leave It to Beaver,” died Tuesday at age 77.
The actor announced in May that he was battling cancer, and in an update last week, Dow’s management team said he was experiencing complications from the disease.
“Tony was a beautiful soul — kind, compassionate, funny and humble. It was truly a joy to just be around him,” his managers said Tuesday in an announcement of his death.
“His gentle voice and unpretentious manner was immediately comforting and you could not help but love him.”
The Los Angeles-born Dow had more than three dozen acting credits during a career that spanned decades, but he was best known for his portrayal of the popular and athletic older brother of Jerry Mathers’ title character on “Leave It to Beaver.”
Dow was a primary cast member on the series, which centered on a suburban American family and the adventures of youngest son Theodore “Beaver” Cleaver.”
The series aired more than 230 episodes during its prolific run from 1957 and 1963 and is considered one of the most influential shows of its era.
“From the warm reminiscences of Wally Cleaver to those of us fortunate enough to know him personally — thank you Tony,” Dow’s managers said.
“And thank you for the reflections of a simpler time, the laughter, the friendship and for the feeling that you were a big brother to us all. We will miss you.”
“Leave It to Beaver” was the first acting role for Dow, who won the job in a casting call. Following the show’s conclusion, Dow had a regular role as Chet on the series “Never Too Young,” a soap opera designed for teenage audiences.
Dow also appeared on episodes of “Lassie,” “The Hardy Boys/Nancy Drew Mysteries” and “Mr. Novak” during the 1960s and ‘70s.
He returned as Wally in the spinoff series “The New Leave It to Beaver,” which aired from 1983-89 and centered on Dow and Mathers’ characters as adults with their own families. That show also featured the return of Barbara Billingsley as the brothers’ mother, June Cleaver.
Dow, along with his wife, Lauren Shulkind, and his managers, regularly chronicled his fight with cancer through social media, beginning with a May 5 Facebook post saying the disease had returned from a previous battle and describing the diagnosis as “truly heartbreaking.”
Last Wednesday, the actor’s managers said Dow was experiencing a “roller coaster of ups and downs.”
“Tony has been in and out of the hospital with various complications and treatments,” the managers wrote. “He and Lauren have been trying to maintain a positive spirit, though at times this proves difficult.”
Dow publicly advocated for mental health awareness and was open about his battle with depression during his early 20s.
“I realize there’s a perceived irony about this. You know, the fact that I was in a TV program that epitomized the supposed ideal world of the ‘50s, and here I’m suffering from depression. But I’m just one of millions,” Dow told the Baltimore Sun in 1993.
In their announcement Tuesday, Dow’s managers said the world is “richer for the memories that he has left us.”