Then and Now

'Leave It to Beaver' actor Jerry Mathers talks major health scare, avoiding the child star curse

When Jerry Mathers got his annual checkup in 1997, he was shocked when doctors said he would only have 3-5 years to live if he didn’t do something about his diabetes.

“I was living the good life,” the now 69-year-old actor told Fox News. “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.

"I was around food all the time and I was a very good cook. Of course, that entailed sitting down with people so I was sometimes eating 5-6 full meals a day… I was making a lot of money, everything was going great, and everyone around me was at least as fat as I was.”

The former “Leave It to Beaver” star was diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure and bad cholesterol. He didn’t need much convincing to turn his life around and shed 55 pounds.

“I sold the catering company and went on a very strict diet,” he explained. “I’ve been controlling my weight with diet and exercise ever since. I walk everyday about 6-8 miles. 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.

"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. 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.”

Life is good. My first #grandchild! #grandpa #jerrymathers #leaveittobeaver #granddaughter

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Today, Mathers leads lectures across the country to warn listeners about the disease and how it can be prevented. It’s a completely different role from the one he took on as Theodore “Beaver” Cleaver at age 9 in the wholesome sitcom, which ran from 1957 until 1963. It’s never been off the air, and it’s shown in 45 languages. He’s proud of the iconic role from his childhood and believes shows today can learn a thing or two from the beloved sitcom.

“I have a lot of problems with today’s TV shows,” he admitted. “I honestly don’t watch a lot of them because to me, they seem very fake. It’s writers being put in a room to just make jokes… and I don’t find many of them funny. There’s also a very thin plot line. And to me, they’re just not very interesting. I do watch a lot of news. I try to stay informed on all the current events. But I don’t really have a big destination TV show.”

He pointed out that over the years, many shows did attempt to copy "Leave It to Beaver" in some way or another.

“This was a show from a child’s perspective of the world… of course, a child is innocent, so they had this idea that the world was going to be perfect and everything will work out right. You had Eddie Haskell, and everybody has a Eddie Haskell in their lives, someone who’s your nemesis and is somehow always out to get you. You’ll always hopefully have a big brother like Wally, who will guide you along the way.”

And despite his success with the series as a child star, Mathers, who began his career in entertainment at age two, avoided the dreaded Hollywood curse. He said his father was a vice principal in Los Angeles and the family didn’t rely on Mathers’ income to make ends meet.

“Yes, it was nice to have another income rolling in, but it wasn’t like my family couldn’t exist without me working,” he said. “And when I finished ‘Leave It to Beaver,’ the studio did have another sitcom they wanted me to do, but I had never been to regular school. I had a private tutor from the first grade up until the eighth grade… I wanted to attend regular school and be with other kids. I wanted to play sports.”

Here's my limited edition Beaver for President tee and sweatshirt available at represent.com/jerry

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Mathers’ life has since been normal, by Hollywood standards. He attended school, played football, and joined the track team. He then enlisted in the Air Force, followed by the National Guard.

Mathers also enrolled in Berkeley where he received a degree in philosophy. Not only did he invest his earnings from the show in commercial paper and government bonds every 90 days, but he also spent a few years as a banker to get a hands-on education in finances. He even became a real estate agent at one point and sold houses. He always took some time along the way to pursue acting. He appeared in “The New Leave It to Beaver” from 1983 until 1989.

Mathers said he is still in touch with his TV family. 

Wishing my long time friend Tony Dow a very Happy Birthday today! #leaveittobeaver

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“We’ve had reunions,” he said. “It’s probably more like how you are with people you went to school with. If anything important happens in their lives or with their grandchildren, because we all have grandchildren now, we reach out. And when someone marries. And sadly, when someone passes. Whoever finds out first calls the rest of us.”

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