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Leave It To Beaver star Tony Dow has died

Tony Dow played Beaver's big brother Wally Cleaver in TV's <em>Leave it to Beaver</em>.
ABC Photo Archives/Disney General Entertainment Content via Getty Images
Tony Dow played Beaver's big brother Wally Cleaver in TV's Leave it to Beaver.

Tony Dow, who played Wally Cleaver in the TV show Leave It To Beaver, has died, according to the gallery owner who represented Dow as a sculptor. He was 77 and had been 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," according to a post on Facebook Wednesday afternoon said.

"We know that the world is collectively saddened by the loss of this incredible man. 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.' "

His death was confirmed by telephone by Frank Bilotta of the Bilotta Gallery which sells Dow's sculpture. The announcement came a day after news of Dow's death was mistakenly posted and then that notice was removed.

Beaver's big brother

Dow was 12 years old when he was cast as Wally Cleaver, the handsome, earnest older brother to Theodore "The Beaver" Cleaver, played by Jerry Mathers. Sibling rivalry, neighborhood mischief, school crushes. The feel-good, family comedy was a hit with audiences beginning in the late 1950s. Leave It To Beaver was also white-bread. As Common Sense Media put it, the series was "a very isolated look at a white, American suburban middle-class family." Still, Leave It To Beaver is in reruns on Peacock.

Dow grew up in a creative family in Hollywood. His father was a general contractor and home designer. His mother was one of Hollywood's first stunt women. The young Dow was a competitive swimmer and diver.

When Leave It To Beaver ended in 1963, Dow acted in a number of TV series including Lassie, Never Too Young and, in the 1980s, a Cleaver family reboot called The New Leave It To Beaver. Later he worked behind the camera, directing episodes of Harry and the Hendersons and Coach among others.

A spokesman for people who suffered depression

Dow was candid about his experience living with depression. He was a spokesperson for the National Depressive and Manic-Depressive Association, now called the Depression and Bipolar Support Alliance. The "irony," as Dow put it, was clear to him. After speaking at an event for the organization in Chicago he said, "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."

Later in life, Dow revived a lifelong passion for making art, namely sculpting. On the website of the Bilotta Gallery which represents him, Dow says, "My goal from the time I was old enough to think about things was to live a creative life."

Copyright 2022 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.

Elizabeth Blair is a Peabody Award-winning senior producer/reporter on the Arts Desk of NPR News.