DYING DOW TOOK CLEAVER TO BEAVER
Actor hated living in the shadow of his role as big brother Wally
EVEN as he lay dying in a Los Angeles hospice Leave It to Beaver star Tony Dow, who played big brother Wally Cleaver on the 1950s sitcom, hated the role that made him a television legend!
Dow — who died July 27 after a battle with liver cancer — found instant stardom at the tender age of 12 when he debuted opposite Jerry Mathers as the Beav’s cool older sibling. And while Tony enjoyed the spotlight for the show’s six-year run from 1957 to 1963, he found himself typecast for the rest of his life! “It’s sad to be famous at 12 years old or something, and then you grow up and become a real person and nothing’s happened for you,” he confessed years later.
Though Dow, 77, enjoyed a relatively successful career as an actor, producer and sculptor, the public refused to recognize him as anyone but Wally
— and it nearly drove him over the edge!
“There was a long time there that Tony really hated Wally,” snitches an insider. “People would approach him on the street and call him by his character’s name and he was resigned to the idea that the role literally defined him.”
Dow begrudgingly admitted: “And I was gonna have to live with it for the rest of my life.” Resignation turned to anger, setting up Tony for a wearying, lifelong battle with mental health. He said he developed severe depression and at one point reportedly even considered suicide.
While addressing a congressional caucus on biomedical research in
1992, the all-American icon denounced depression as “a very powerful thing,” and explained that those who suffer from it are “regular people; I mean who could be more regular than Wally Cleaver?”
He credited the support of his wife, Lauren Shulkind, 75, and close friends like Beaver himself, Jerry Mathers, 74 — along with years of therapy — for keeping him sane.
But his death was also marred by a surprising tragedy!
Lauren was horrified when the beloved actor’s management team prematurely announced he’d died, just a day before his passing!
His shattered only child, 49-year-old Christopher, had to tell the public his father was still alive but at death’s door in hospice fighting the deadly cancer that returned in March.