Wally Cox, who portrayed the meek schoolteacher Robinson Peepers on television in the early 50s, died of an apparent heart attack Thursday in his Bel-Air home. He was 48.
Patricia Cox, wife of the gentle comedian, discovered him lying fully clothed on their bed.
“A detailed autopsy revealed severe coronary disease due to arteriosclerosis,” said Coroner Dr. Thomas Noguchi. “The death appears to be the result of a heart attack.”
Although the bespectacled Cox made frequent television appearances in recent years, and was a regular on the NBC daytime panel show, The Hollywood Squares, it was for his role as the owlish Mr. Peepers that he was most remembered.
During 110 episodes from 1952 to 1955, Cox charmed national audiences as a shy science teacher with a high-pitched, quavering voice.
But he never really liked doing the show. “It was during the days of live programming and we had to remember the whole script,” he once said. “It was just too rigid and tense.”
And it later troubled him that he was forever being associated with the role.
“I just wish people would forget Mr. Peepers,” he said. “Since the shows weren’t recorded they are lost to history anyway.”
Cox next starred in The Adventures of Hiram Holiday, in which he played a proofreader on a New York City newspaper. After that show folded, he put his mischievous wit to work in guest appearances. He also was a voice in the cartoon series Underdog.
In addition to television, Cox appeared in such movies as “State Fair,” “Spencer’s Mountain,” “Fate Is the Hunter,” and “The Yellow Rolls-Royce.”
“Acting is a rather simple thing which does not worry me too much,” he once reflected.
He was born Wallace Maynard Cox in Detroit on Dec. 8, 1924. Both of his parents were writers and moved frequently. He attended nine schools in 12 years.
At a school in Evanston, Ill., he met and formed a lasting friendship with Marlon Brando. They were both addicted to motorcycle riding, although Cox preferred ones that were “slo-o-w.”
“I was a new kid nine times,” he said. “As if that weren’t enough, I was articulate, always the smallest one in class, and nearsighted.”
Cox recently admitted: “There is a lot of Mr. Peepers in me. When I was a kid in the Midwest I got straight As in school and I spent 13 years on the psychiatrist’s couch paying for it. If I were a kid today, you can bet that wouldn’t happen.”
In private life he was a quiet man who spent his leisure time hiking, collecting insects, watching birds and writing children’s books.
“The one thing I hate about acting is the loss of privacy,” he once said. “I can be anonymous if I take off my glasses—no one can recognize me. But then I can’t see.”
Cox’ first two marriages ended in divorce. He leaves his third wife, an adopted stepdaughter, Lisa, 13, and a daughter, Alice, 16 by his first wife.
At his request, there will be no funeral service. The body will be cremated and the ashes scattered at sea.