Tony Dow, the actor and director best known for playing the stalwart older brother Wally Cleaver to Jerry Mathers’ Beaver in the iconic series “Leave It to Beaver,” died Wednesday after it was incorrectly announced Tuesday that he had died. He was 77.
“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. We know that the world is collectively saddened by the loss of this incredible man,” read the statement on his official Facebook page.
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His son Christopher said in the Facebook statement, “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.’”
Dow and his wife Lauren announced in May that his cancer, which he had been diagnosed with years before, had returned.
Mathers remembered Dow on Facebook, writing “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.”
Dow was born in Hollywood and his mother was an early stunt woman and double for Clara Bow. He was a Junior Olympics diving champion, but didn’t have much showbiz experience when he tagged along with a friend and ended up auditioning for and winning the role of Wally. “Leave it to Beaver” began airing in 1957 and ran until 1963. The popular black-and-white sitcom, centered around the typical idealized family of the time, followed the adventures of mischievous young Beaver, his practical brother Wally, their devious friend Eddie Haskell, and their long-suffering but understanding parents played by Barbara Billingsley and Hugh Beaumont.
The show’s writers, Bob Mosher and Joe Connelly, based the characters on their own children, incorporating such details as Wally’s constant hair-combing they observed in their own teenagers. As the show came to an end, Wally was about to start college while Beaver was ready for high school.
Dow returned in the 1980s for the TV movie “Still the Beaver” and series “The New Leave It to Beaver,” for which he also directed five episodes and wrote one.
He moved into writing, producing and directing while continuing to act, and helmed several episodes of “Harry and the Hendersons,” “Coach,” “Babylon 5,” “Honey I Shrunk the Kids” and an episode of “Star Trek: Deep Space Nine.”
After “Leave It to Beaver,” Dow appeared on series including “General Hospital,” “Mr. Novak,” “Never Too Young,” “Lassie,” “Love, American Style,” “Square Pegs” and “The Love Boat,” on which he played himself. He also played himself in the 2003 comedy “Dickie Roberts: Former Child Star,” which featured cameos of dozens of former young actors, and appeared in the John Landis skit comedy feature “The Kentucky Fried Movie.”
Dow battled depression in his 20s, making the self-help video “Beating the Blues” to help others, and later survived two bouts of cancer. He also became a sculptor and started a construction company.
He is survived by his wife Lauren, son Christopher, brother Dion and a grandchild.
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