Clarence Gilyard Jr., a constant and charming presence in beloved action franchises from the 1980s and ’90s including Die Hard, Top Gun, Matlock, and Walker, Texas Ranger, is dead at 66, multiple outlets report.
HIs passing was first announced by the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, where he worked as an associate professor at the College of Fine Arts. No cause of death or further details have been made public.
Born on Christmas Eve, 1955, Gilyard graduated from California State University with a BA in Theatre Arts and made his television debut in 1981 on Diff’rent Strokes. In 1982 and ’83 he had a 20-episode run on CHiPs, and his first turn on the silver screen came in 1986’s Top Gun as Marcus “Sundown” Williams.
In 1988 he showed off his humor as the wisecracking terrorist hacker Theo in Die Hard, a part he reprised in a 2021 Advanced Auto Parts commercial co-starring Bruce Willis. At the time, he called the enduring popularity of his character “surreal.”
Gilyard would make his most enduring mark on television, starting with a recurring role opposite Andy Griffith as private investigator Conrad McMasters in 85 episodes of Matlock. From 1993 to 2001, and in several TV movies that followed, he starred in Walker, Texas Ranger as Ranger James Trivette, the titular hero’s partner.
Since then, Gilyard appeared in two movies in the Left Behind film series and received his MFA in Theatre Performance at Southern Methodist University, the credentials of which allowed him to join the faculty at UNLV.
UNLV Dean Nancy J. Uscher said of Gilyard, “His students were deeply inspired by him, as were all who knew him. He had many extraordinary talents and was extremely well-known in the university through his dedication to teaching and his professional accomplishments. His generosity of spirit was boundless – he was always ready to contribute to projects and performances however possible. We remember Clarence with joy and gratitude for all he contributed to the College of Fine Arts, the UNLV community, and, through his impressive personal achievements, to the world.”
UNLV film chair Heather Addison remembered Professor Gilyard as “a beacon of light and strength for everyone around him at UNLV. Whenever we asked him how he was, he would cheerfully declare that he was ‘Blessed!’ But we are truly the ones who were blessed to be his colleagues and students for so many years. We love you and will miss you dearly, Professor G!”