Dow was thrust into stardom at age 12, when he was cast on the soon-to-be-smash sitcom “Leave It to Beaver.” In the role, Dow helped create the archetype of a suburban nuclear family and became a household name to millions of viewers. The show ran from 1957 to 1963.
“There went my life,” he said.
Wally Cleaver, the straight-arrow teenage son, star athlete and Boy Scout, became inextricably tied to Dow, who said he struggled to stand on his own.
“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 told CBS.
Dow, who said he experienced undiagnosed depression from age 20 to age 40, spoke out for decades about his mental health challenges, long before it was common for celebrities to disclose that information publicly. In 1993, he was an honorary speaker at a convention for the National Depressive and Manic-Depressive Association.
Dow told CBS that once he accepted his diagnosis and began treatment, he found hope. He channeled that hope into art, too, sculpting ornate pieces at his home studio.
“I think people should take the leap of faith that they can feel better,” he said.
Dow continued to work in Hollywood, taking parts in TV series and even reprising his role in “The New Leave It to Beaver” in the 1980s. He also directed episodes of series like “Harry and the Hendersons,” “Coach” and “Star Trek: Deep Space Nine.”