Clarence Gilyard, a film and television actor known for his roles in “Die Hard,” “Walker, Texas Ranger” and “Top Gun,” has died. He was 66.
The University of Nevada, Las Vegas confirmed Gilyard’s death Monday in a statement shared on Instagram. The performer, director and producer was also a film and theater professor who taught acting for the stage and screen at UNLV. No cause of death was given.
“It is with profound sadness that I share this news,” said Nancy Uscher, dean of the UNLV college of fine arts. “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.
“He had a national and international following through his celebrated work in the theatre, in film, and television. 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.”
After appearing in various TV movies and shows in the early 1980s, Gilyard made his big-screen debut as naval flight officer Marcus “Sundown” Williams in the original “Top Gun” (1986). He later portrayed computer hacker Theo in the classic action flick “Die Hard” (1988) before starring as private investigator Conrad McMasters in the hit mystery series “Matlock” (1989-1993), and Chuck Norris’ onscreen partner James “Jimmy” Trivette in the popular crime series “Walker, Texas Ranger” (1993-2001).
Gilyard earned his BA in theater arts from Cal State Dominguez Hills, as well an MFA in theater performance at Southern Methodist University before teaching acting at UNLV.
“Professor Gilyard was a beacon of light and strength for everyone around him at UNLV,” said UNLV film chair Heather Addison. “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!”
“Some may find it surprising to know that Clarence valued his appointment as a university professor as highly, maybe higher, then his illustrious career as a TV star,” said UNLV theater professor Nate Bynum. “It was a major goal for him. He loved … the students he instructed in his classroom. Gone too soon.”