Tony Dow, actor who played Wally Cleaver on ‘Leave It to Beaver,’ dies at 77

Alexandra Del Rosario and Kenan Draughorne
Los Angeles Times

Tony Dow, the actor who was best known as Wally Cleaver in the beloved 1950s sitcom “Leave It to Beaver,” has died. He was 77.

Dow died Wednesday morning, his son, Christopher Dow, confirmed in a post on the actor’s official Facebook account. No cause of death was revealed, but Dow was previously diagnosed with cancer.

“We have received confirmation from Christopher, Tony’s son, that Tony passed away earlier this morning, with his loving family at his side to see him through this journey,” the Wednesday Facebook post said.

His death came not long after his management team and wife, Lauren, prematurely announced that the actor had died Tuesday morning. Several news outlets had reported Dow’s death, including the L.A. Times, prompting his representatives to delete the initial Facebook post announcing his demise. Dow’s verified Facebook account clarified on Tuesday that Dow was still alive but “not doing well.”

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Dow was diagnosed with and treated for cancer several years ago, and his wife announced in May that it had returned.

Dow was born and raised in Hollywood on April 13, 1945. In 1957, the actor, who at the time possessed little acting experience, made his Tinseltown debut as the whip-smart, pompadoured Wally Cleaver in the beloved sitcom “Leave It to Beaver.”

Wally was the older brother to Jerry Mathers’ titular Theodore “Beaver” Cleaver. Together with Mathers, Dow fostered a relatable brotherly chemistry; as Wally, Dow helped younger brother Beaver understand the ways of the world and charmed viewers with memorable one-liners.

When best friend Eddie Haskell (Ken Osmond) asked Wally to tell his father that he’s a “big, stupid dope,” Wally playfully scoffed: “Don’t worry about it, Eddie. I think he’s kind of suspected it for years.”

After the series concluded in 1963, Dow appeared in additional television shows, including “The Greatest Show on Earth,” “Mr. Novak” and “Never Too Young.”

The actor took a break from acting to join the California Guard in 1965. He was assigned to Special Services and served as a photographer in the Headquarter and Headquarters Company, 40th Armored Division, according to the Camp Roberts Historical Museum. During his service, he also studied journalism and photography.

Jerry Mathers played "The Beav," Tony Dow his older brother, Barbara Billingsly as the mom and Hugh Beaumont as the dad in the enduring family series, "Leave It to Beaver." (ABC/TNS)

Dow returned to acting in the late ’60s and early ’70s, appearing in “Lassie,” “A Great American Tragedy” and “Death Scream.” In 1969, he married Carol Marlow, with whom he shares son Christopher Dow. In June 1980, Dow married Lauren Shulkind.

Dow reprised the role of Wally when the Cleaver family returned to television for the reunion movie “Still Beaver” and the sequel series “The New Leave It to Beaver,” which ran from 1983 and 1989. During his time on the revival, Dow debuted his directing chops, helming episodes for both “The New Leave It to Beaver” and “The New Lassie.”

In 1988 the Young Artists Awards honored Dow with the Former Child Star Lifetime Achievement Award for his performance as Cleaver.

The actor also dabbled in visual effects work, receiving credits for “Babylon 5” and “Doctor Who: The Movie,” according to IMDb. He was a painter and sculptor too, with work once displayed in the Louvre in Paris.

He is survived by his son Christopher, wife Lauren, daughter-in-law Melissa, granddaughter Tyla, and a brother-in-law and sister-in-law.

“Although this is a very sad day, I have comfort and peace that he is in a better place. He was the best Dad anyone could ask for,” Christopher Dow said in Wednesday’s Facebook post. “He was my coach, my mentor, my voice of reason, my best friend, my best man in my wedding, and my hero.”