Jerry Mathers, who starred as Beaver Cleaver on the classic 1950s sitcom Leave It to Beaver, celebrated his 73rd birthday in June. If he didn’t make major life changes though, he might not have reached that age. In a 2017 interview with Fox News, Mathers said he was told he needed to eat better after he was diagnosed with diabetes. Otherwise, he would only have three to five years to live.
“I was living the good life,” Mathers told Fox News at the time. “I had side businesses and one of them was a catering business. And I was doing a lot of motion picture and television catering for crews, which is for about 100-200 people. It’s like setting up a whole restaurant.” Since he was around food all the time, he ate five to six meals a day, plus he was making a lot of money as a caterer. “Everything was going great, and everyone around me was at least as fat as I was,” he said.
Mathers was later diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, and bad cholesterol. During a doctor’s visit in 1997, he was told he would only live another three to five years if he didn’t make changes to his diet. He lost 55 pounds after selling his catering company and going on a strict diet. “I’ve been controlling my weight with diet and exercise ever since. I walk everyday about 6-8 miles,” Mathers said in 2017. “And I am now pre-diabetic because of that… dying from diabetes is a terrible way to go. It’s really a horrible death. It basically burns different parts of your body.”
Still, Mathers understood it was a daily struggle to stay healthy. He decided to speak out when he did to help educate his fans on diabetes. “It’s really tough, especially when I go out to eat. But I think, ‘I can have this, but do I want to run further to get the weight off? Could I even get it off?’ It’s a daily struggle,” he said. “I’m not cured. This is something I have to deal with all the time. And I’m hoping that by going out to educate people on diabetes, I can save my fans.”
After Leave It to Beaver wrapped, Mathers retired from acting to finish high school. He also served in the Air Force Reserve and earned a philosophy degree from the University of California, Berkeley. He occasionally appeared in Leave It to Beaver reunions and guest-starred in other television shows through 2008. He continues to meet with fans by attending conventions. In August, he and his on-screen brother Tony Dow attended the Comic Con at the Broadmoor World Arena in Colorado Springs, Colorado.
When asked how he avoided the struggles many other child stars face, Mathers told the Colorado Springs Gazette that his parents made sure he had an average life outside television. “My dad was a teacher and vice principal and ended up as a superintendent,” Mathers explained. “I was the oldest, so I went home to a regular family life. When I went home I was the Wally character. I did chores. It’s not like I was some big actor and the rest of the family was just sitting there.”