Leave It to Beaver's Barbara Billingsley Dies at 94
Barbara Billingsley, best known as Leave It to Beaver's picture-perfect matriarch June Cleaver, has died. She was 94.
Billingsley died early Saturday at her Santa Monica, Calif., home, family spokeswoman Judy Twersky said. The actress had suffered from a rheumatoid disease.
"I am deeply saddened by the loss of my dear friend and lifetime mentor Barbara Billingsley. She will live in the hearts of her fans as a wonderful actress and be remembered by her friends as a gracious lady," Beaver co-star Jerry Mathers, who played Billingsley's mischievous son, Theodore "Beaver," told TMZ. "She will be deeply missed by all of her family, friends, fans and most especially by me."
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A former fashion model, Billingsley started acting in the 1940s, appearing in such films as Three Guys Named Mike, Invaders from Mars and The Careless Years. She made her TV debut in a 1952 episode of The Abbott and Costello Show and later appeared on The Lone Wolf, City Detective and Schlitz Playhouse of Stars.
But Billingsley didn't become a star until 1957 when she signed on to play the quintessential TV mom, June Cleaver, on CBS' family sitcom Leave It to Beaver, alongside Mathers, Hugh Beaumont and Tony Dow. CBS canceled the series after one season due to poor ratings. The show then moved to ABC, where it remained for five more years, achieving iconic status for its portrayal of an idealized American family in suburbia.
Impeccably dressed with her trademark pearls and high heels, stay-at-home mom June was dutifully devoted to her husband, Ward (Beaumont), and regularly dispensed advice to her sons, "Beaver" and Wally (Dow).
"Barbara was a patient advisor and teacher," Mathers said. "She helped me along this challenging journey through life by showing me the importance of manners, and respect for others."
Typecast as the perfect mother, Billingsley took a break from acting after the show ended. She poked fun her wholesome image in the 1980 satire Airplane!, playing a passenger who could speak jive.
Watch videos of Barbara Billingsley
Billingsley subsequently starred in the 1983 Beaver reunion TV movie, Still the Beaver, and the revival series, The New Leave It to Beaver, which lasted four seasons. In the 1997 film version of Beaver, Billingsley played Aunt Martha. Other credits include Mork & Mindy, Roseanne, Empty Nest and Muppet Babies, on which she voiced Nanny and The Little Train.
Billingsley was married three times, and her last husband died in 1981. She is survived by two sons, three stepchildren and several grandchildren.
Watch Billingsley's cameo in Airplane!: