Tony Dow, the director, producer, and actor best known for his role as eldest son Wally Cleaver on the 1957 sitcom Leave It to Beaver, died Tuesday morning from undisclosed causes. He was 77.
Dow’s management team Frank Bilotta and Renee James released a statement on the actor’s official Facebook page.
“It is with an extremely heavy heart that we share with you the passing of our beloved Tony this morning,” the statement reads. “Tony was a beautiful soul — kind, compassionate, funny and humble. It was truly a joy to just be around him. His gentle voice and unpretentious manner was immediately comforting and you could not help but love him.”
“The world has lost an amazing human being, but we are all richer for the memories that he has left us,” the statement continues. “From the warm reminiscences of Wally Cleaver to those of us fortunate enough to know him personally — thank you Tony. 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.”
Born April 13, 1945, Dow started playing Wally on Leave It to Beaver at age 12, a part he landed from a casting call with little acting experience. As a kid, Dow was training to be a competitive swimming when he accompanied his coach to an audition. The coach didn’t get a part, but Dow got an offer to become Wally, the all-American older brother of Theodore “Beaver” Cleaver, played by Jerry Mathers.
In an interview with CBS Sunday Morning that aired in January 2022, Dow opened up about the anger and depression that stemmed from Leave It to Beaver.
Everett Collection ‘Leave It to Beaver’ star Tony Dow died at the age of 77.
“From the age of 11 or 12, I was being told what to do. I was told on the set, I was told at home. I didn’t have control of my life,” he said. Dow didn’t think his existence would be defined by Leave It to Beaver, but he said it did. “I was gonna have to live with it for the rest of my life. I thought, ‘This isn’t fair.’ I’d like to do some other stuff, I’d like to do some interesting stuff. It’s sad to be famous at 12 years old and then you grow up and become a real person and nothing’s happened for you.”
“If left untreated, anger turns to depression,” he added. “But depression isn’t something you can say ‘cheer up’ about. It’s a very powerful thing, and it’s had a lot of effect on my life.”
It wasn’t until the age of 40 when he said he came to appreciate the legacy of Leave It to Beaver and the opportunity it afforded him.
Dow would act for years to come in shows like General Hospital, Lassie, Mod Squad, and The Hardy Boys/Nancy Drew Mysteries. He also found success as a producer and director. Dow helmed episodes of Harry and the Hendersons, Swamp Thing, Babylon 5, Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, Honey, I Shrunk the Kids: The TV Show, and more.
Dow showed CBS earlier this year the sculpting work he’d done at home that helped him cope with depression. “I’ve got it under control, pretty much,” he said at the time. “I think people should take the leap of faith that they can feel better.”