It's been a bad week for baby boom cultural figures.
Following the deaths of Hollywood legend Bob Rafelson and accomplished actor Paul Sorvino, Tony Dow died Wednesday morning of cancer at age 77.
Dow gained fame as Wally Cleaver, the tolerant older brother of the impetuous Theodore "Beaver" Cleaver on "Leave It to Beaver," which ran from 1957 to 1963, first on CBS and then on ABC.
With Barbara Billingsley as the gorgeous, stylish mother and Hugh Beaumont as the wise father, the show presented an idealized suburban family confronting innocent challenges of childhood and growing up. As with other shows of the period, the Cleavers' neighborhood was all-white, and the turmoil then upending American life never intruded.
A former diving champion, the athletic, curly-haired Dow was a heart-throb for teenaged girls. With a persistent smile, he sometimes teased Beaver or showed exasperation at his kid brother's hijinks, but treated him with amused tolerance. Such big brothers were rare in real life.
Like other TV child stars, Dow had a tough time adjusting to later life. He continued his acting career, appearing in a number of TV roles, and later was a busy director. But he battled and overcame serious depression, becoming an advocate for mental health services. He also received recognition as a sculptor.
His co-star, Jerry Mathers, remembered Dow as kind and generous. As middle-aged adults, Mathers and Dow reunited for several "Beaver" sequels.
Dow's Wally was the friend or big brother we wished we knew in real life.