Tony Dow, Big Brother Wally Cleaver From 'Leave It To Beaver,' Has Died At 77

Dow also worked as a director and in visual effects, and was a sculptor.

Gael Cooper
CNET editor Gael Fashingbauer Cooper, a journalist and pop-culture junkie, is co-author of "Whatever Happened to Pudding Pops? The Lost Toys, Tastes and Trends of the '70s and '80s," as well as "The Totally Sweet '90s." She's been a journalist since 1989, working at Mpls.St.Paul Magazine, Twin Cities Sidewalk, the Minneapolis Star Tribune, and NBC News Digital. She's Gen X in birthdate, word and deed. If Marathon candy bars ever come back, she'll be first in line.
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Gael Cooper
3 min read

Tony Dow, the actor who played Beaver Cleaver's handsome and kind older brother, Wally, on the popular sitcom Leave It To Beaver, has died at age 77, his manager, Frank Bilotta, told CNET on Wednesday.

The news came after a confusing Tuesday during which Dow's representatives reported he had died, but later corrected themselves to say that the actor was under hospice care and in his final hours.

Actor Tony Dow sitting on a beach, looking over his shoulder

Actor Tony Dow on the beach at Santa Monica, California, circa 1958.

Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Bilotta referred fans to a new post on Dow's official Facebook page.

"We know that the world is collectively saddened by the loss of this incredible man," the post reads in part. "He gave so much to us all and was loved by so many. One fan said it best – 'It is rare when there is a person who is so universally loved like Tony.'"

The post went on to note that Dow will be missed by his wife, Lauren; son, Christopher; daughter-in-law, Melissa; granddaughter, Tyla and more relatives and friends.

"He was the best Dad anyone could ask for," Christopher Dow said in the post. "He was my coach, my mentor, my voice of reason, my best friend, my best man in my wedding, and my hero. My wife said something powerful and shows the kind of man he was. She said: 'Tony was such a kind man. He had such a huge heart and I've never heard Tony say a bad or negative thing about anyone.'"

Dow had been diagnosed with prostate and gall bladder cancer.

Wally Cleaver was a big brother to not just the baby boom generation, but to younger viewers who watched Leave It To Beaver in reruns. Always polite and honest, he set an example that mischievous Beaver looked up to, but couldn't always emulate. Unlike his smarmy friend, Eddie Haskell, Dow's Wally was a straight shooter who seemed to lead a charmed life. 

But offscreen, Dow suffered from clinical depression, even speaking at the annual convention of the National Depressive and Manic-Depressive Association.

"It was an illness prevalent on my mother's side of the family," Dow said at the time, as quoted in the Chicago Tribune. "But certainly 'Leave It to Beaver' had something to do with it. Certainly it had something to do with raising one's expectations and establishing a certain criteria that you would expect to continue in life."

After playing Wally on Leave It to Beaver, which ran from 1957 to 1963 and more than 200 episodes, Dow admitted that he found himself typecast. 

"Wally is a pretty innocuous character to be typecast as," he told CT Insider. "People really wanted you because you were Wally or they don't want you because you were Wally."

Dow also appeared on numerous other popular TV shows, including My Three Sons, Emergency, Adam-12 and Square Pegs. He reprised his role as Wally in a reunion movie and the reboot series The New Leave It to Beaver. He also worked as a director and worked in visual effects.

Also a sculptor, he once exhibited his work at the Carrousel du Louvre in Paris.

The confusing reports led numerous fans and friends, including Jerry Mathers, who played Wally's little brother, Beaver, to remember Dow on Facebook before his passing.

"He was not only my brother on TV, but in many ways in life as well," Mathers wrote before the news of Dow's death was corrected. "He was always the kindest, most generous, gentle, loving, sincere, and humble man, that it was my honor and privilege to be able to share memories together with for 65 years."