LOS ANGELES -- Actress Barbara Billingsley, most famous for her role as June Cleaver in "Leave it to Beaver," died Saturday at the age of 94.

Billingsley suffered from rheumatoid disease.

She died at her home in Santa Monica, according to family spokeswoman Judy Twersky.

Billingsley began acting in her elementary school's plays and soon discovered she wanted to do nothing else.

She won numerous roles in movies from the mid-1940s to the mid-1950s, but failed to obtain star status until "Leave it to Beaver," a show that she almost passed on.

Decades later, she expressed surprise at the lasting affection people had for the show.

"We knew we were making a good show, because it was so well written," she said. "But we had no idea what was ahead. People still talk about it and write letters, telling how much they watch it today with their children and grandchildren."

After "Leave it to Beaver" left the air in 1963 Billingsley largely disappeared from public view for several years.

She resurfaced in 1980 in a hilarious cameo in "Airplane!" playing a demur elderly passenger not unlike June Cleaver.

She returned as June Cleaver in a 1983 TV movie, "Still the Beaver," and made a cameo in the 1997 Universal film "Leave it to Beaver" as Aunt Ruth.

In later years she appeared from time to time in such TV series as "Murphy Brown," "Empty Nest" and "Baby Boom" and had a memorable comic turn opposite fellow TV moms June Lockhart of "Lassie" and Isabel Sanford of "The Jeffersons" on the "Roseanne" show.

Born Barbara Lillian Combes in Los Angeles on Dec. 22, 1922, she was raised by her mother after her parents divorced. She and her first husband, Glenn Billingsley, divorced when her sons were just 2 and 4.

Her second husband, director Roy Kellino, died of a heart attack after three years of marriage and just months before she landed the "Leave it to Beaver" role.

She married physician Bill Mortenson in 1959 and they remained wed until his death in 1981.

She is survived by her sons, three stepchildren and numerous grandchildren.