Barbara Billingsley, Leave it to Beaver Mom, Dead at 94

Barbara Billingley of "Leave it to Beaver" and "Airplane" fame has died at the ripe old age of 94.

Barbara Billingley of “Leave it to Beaver” and “Airplane” fame has died at the ripe old age of 94.

Barbara Billingsley, who wore a classy pearl necklace and dispensed pearls of wisdom as America’s quintessential mom on “Leave it to Beaver,” has died at age 94, a family spokeswoman said Saturday.

The actress passed away at 2 a.m. (5 a.m. ET) Saturday at her home in Santa Monica, California, after a long illness, spokeswoman Judy Twersky said. A private memorial is being planned.

Actor Jerry Mathers, who played Theodore “Beaver” Cleaver, called Billingsley a lifetime mentor. “Barbara was a patient advisor and teacher. She helped me along this challenging journey through life by showing me the importance of manners, and respect for others,” Mathers said in a statement. “She will be missed by all of her family, friends, fans and most especially by me.”

Tony Dow, who played Beaver’s brother, Wally Cleaver, also reflected on Billingsley’s legacy.  “She was as happy as a lark being recognized as America’s mom,” Dow told CNN’s Don Lemon. “She had a terrific life and had a wonderful impact on everybody she knew, and even people she didn’t know.”

The actress won a new legion of fans in a brief, but memorable, scene in the 1980 send-up movie “Airplane.”  “Oh, stewardess. I speak jive,” Billingsley said in her role — much different from her June Cleaver persona — as an elderly passenger comforting an ill man on the flight. She, the sick man and his seat companion engaged in street-slang banter.

In a different age, that would have led to the type of career resurgence Betty White is currently enjoying.   But Dow is right:  A great, long life.

FILED UNDER: Obituaries, Popular Culture, ,
James Joyner
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James Joyner is Professor and Department Head of Security Studies at Marine Corps University's Command and Staff College and a nonresident senior fellow at the Scowcroft Center for Strategy and Security at the Atlantic Council. He's a former Army officer and Desert Storm vet. Views expressed here are his own. Follow James on Twitter @DrJJoyner.


  1. Franklin says:

    I watched a lot of “Leave It To Beaver” in my youth, and somehow never made the connection to the famous jive-talker.