LOS ANGELES – Tony Dow, the actor, director and artist best known for his role as Wally Cleaver on the iconic family sitcom “Leave it to Beaver,” died Wednesday — one day after his management team mistakenly announced his death, only to later retract the news and say he was still in hospice care.
Dow was 77.
In an updated message posted on Dow’s Facebook page Wednesday, the actor’s managers announced that Dow “passed away earlier this morning, with his loving family at his side to see him through this journey.”
Dow’s son, Christopher, said in a 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’s managers on Tuesday announced Dow’s death on Facebook, and the news quickly went worldwide. But Dow’s family later confirmed that the actor was still alive, although in hospice care and in his “final hours.” The management team said Dow’s wife, Lauren, initially believed that her husband had died Tuesday morning and asked that a public announcement be made. They said later, “As we are sure you can understand, this has been a very trying time for her.”
Dow had been battling a re-occurrence with cancer, which he had beaten back twice before. His managers wrote last week that Dow had been “in and out of the hospital with various complications and treatments.”
His “Leave it to Beaver” co-star, Jerry Mathers, who played the Beaver, took to Facebook on Tuesday to hail his lifelong friend.
“He was not only my brother on TV, but in many ways in life as well,” Mathers wrote. “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. Tony was so grateful for all of the love and support from our fans across the world.”
Former child star Bill Mumy also posted a tribute online, calling Dow “one of the very best humans I’ve ever known.”
“A true artist, a kind soul, a patient, down to earth, humble man and a good close friend,” Mumy wrote.
Actor Willie Aames called Dow “a humanitarian, artist, actor, director and television icon. Tony was happiest in his Topanga Canyon shop where he sculpted and worked with passion. He and I shared woodworking as a passion and art.”
“Leave it to Beaver” is one of the most memorable TV series from the early days of television. Running on CBS in 1957-58 and ABC from 1958-63, the black-and-white program portrayed the American ideal of family life. The Cleavers were led by parents portrayed by Barbara Billingsley and Hugh Beaumont, with Mathers playing the always-mischievous Beaver and Dow being his more straight-laced older brother, Wally.
The show was revived with a 1983 TV movie called “Still the Beaver,” followed by a revival series titled “The New Leave it to Beaver.”
Dow moved more into writing and directing, but continued to make appearances on shows including “The Love Boat,” “Charles in Charge” and “Lassie.” As a director, he helmed episodes of shows including “Coach,” “Babylon 5,” “Star Trek: Deep Space Nine” and “Swamp Thing.”
He also became an accomplished artist and sculptor. One of his bronze sculptures was once displayed at the Louvre in Paris.