Tony Dow, the actor best known for playing Wally Cleaver — older brother to Jerry Mathers’ Beaver in the iconic American sitcom Leave It to Beaver — has died at age 77. Dow and his wife Lauren Shulkind announced in May that his cancer, which was first diagnosed many years ago, had returned. His death was mistakenly reported yesterday, July 26, via his official Facebook page in a since-deleted message from his management team. Today (July 27), it was confirmed by his son Christopher that Dow had, in fact, passed on.
In a Facebook post made today, Christopher is quoted: “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. 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.'”
Leave it to Beaver began airing in 1957 and ran until 1963. The black-and-white TV series was a huge hit, centered around a wholesome 1950s family living in the suburbs. While the show’s namesake was the mischievous young Beaver himself, Dow’s role as Beaver’s pragmatic older brother Wally was essential to rounding out the charming family dynamic.
The show’s run ended in the early 60s, but Dow returned to the role in the 1980s for the TV movie Still the Beaver and series The New Leave It to Beaver, for which he directed five episodes and wrote one. Dow also began writing, producing, and directing, executing several episodes of Harry and the Hendersons, Honey I Shrunk the Kids, and Star Trek: Deep Space Nine, among others. Dow appeared on many more series as an actor as well, including General Hospital, Lassie, and The Love Boat.
Mathers, who played Beaver, wrote his own touching remembrance of Dow on Facebook: “He was not only my brother on TV, but in many ways in life as well. Tony leaves an empty place in my heart that won’t be filled. 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.”