‘Leave It to Beaver’ star Tony Dow reflects on past depression battle: ‘It’s had a lot of effect on my life’

The former child star, who famously played Wally Cleaver in the ‘50s sitcom “Leave It to Beaver,” detailed how he initially believed the character wouldn’t define him as he grew older – “but it did.”

“And I was gonna have to live with it for the rest of my life,” the actor recalled during an appearance on “CBS Sunday Morning.” “I thought, ‘This isn’t fair.’ You know? I mean, I’d like to do some other stuff. I’d like to do some interesting stuff. You know, 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 happening to you.”

“Leave It to Beaver,” which aired from 1957 until 1963, chronicled the misadventures of a suburban boy, along with his family and friends. It starred Jerry Mathers, as well as Dow, Barbara Billingsley, Hugh Beaumont and Ken Osmond, among others.


Tony Dow starred as Wally Cleaver in ‘Leave It to Beaver’.

Tony Dow starred as Wally Cleaver in ‘Leave It to Beaver’. (Photo by American Broadcasting Companies via Getty Images)

According to the 76-year-old, the sadness he initially felt following the success of “Leave It to Beaver” transformed into anger – which led to a struggle that he said plagued him for years.

“Anger, if it’s untreated, anger turns to depression,” Dow explained. “But depression isn’t something you can say ‘cheer up!’ about. You know, it’s a very powerful thing. And it’s had a lot of effect on my life.”

Dow shared that medication and therapy helped him cope with his depression. He also credited pursuing his childhood love of art for giving him a sense of purpose. Today, he’s “got it under control pretty much.”

He hoped that in sharing his story, others who are also faced with depression will reach out for help.


Today, Tow Dow is a successful artist.

Today, Tow Dow is a successful artist. (Photo by Albert L. Ortega/WireImage)

“I think people should take the leap of faith that they can feel better,” he said.

Today, Dow takes on the occasional acting job when the role feels right. As for Wally, he’s no longer haunted by him.

“I felt that way probably from the time I was 20, maybe until I was 40,” said Dow on previously being troubled by the beloved character. “And then at 40, I realized how great the show was, how appreciative I should be for being in that show.”

Back in 2019, Dow told Fox News that being typecast after “Leave It to Beaver” was “a major problem.”


Tony Dow, seen here with Jerry Mathers, said that he's now grateful for the role of Wally Cleaver.

Tony Dow, seen here with Jerry Mathers, said that he’s now grateful for the role of Wally Cleaver. (Photo by Hulton Archive/Getty Images)

“But every actor has that issue,” he said at the time. “People formulate an opinion about you and expect you to be a particular way. And when you’re not that way, they’re disappointed. They don’t quite understand it. That was an issue I was faced with.”

“I wish I could have tried to get rid of that,” he shared. “But that changed, especially in the ‘80s. I did ‘High School U.S.A’ with Michael J. Fox. They were even going to make a series out of it, so I was pretty happy about that because it would move me along. But that was also at the time when the new ‘Leave It to Beaver’ came along. So I had to make a choice. I was ready to do the other show. And the studio wanted me to do it. But then they were going to recast Wally. I just thought that wouldn’t work. I don’t know. It just didn’t make sense in my mind. So I decided to do it.”

“The New Leave It to Beaver,” aired from 1983 until 1989.

Dow said he’s thankful that his parents gave him a normal upbringing even as he skyrocketed to fame at a young age.


Tony Dow credited his parents for giving him a normal childhood.

Tony Dow credited his parents for giving him a normal childhood. (Getty Images)

“My parents wanted to make sure it was normal,” said Dow. “When I wasn’t doing the show, I was at school. We had family vacations during the summers and I had my group of friends. And I appreciated that. It’s difficult to make the transition from being a kid actor to an adult actor because all sorts of things happen.”

“Your voice changes,” he continued. “You’re no longer the cute little kid. You go through an awkward age and don’t get hired, so you quit… I wasn’t neglected by my family… I also started college and kept acting… Then I decided to stop and try other things, like directing, to keep things interesting. But my life was sort of consistently the same. So I didn’t have trouble with that transition. And I’m still keeping busy today.”

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