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Clarence Gilyard, ‘Walker, Texas Ranger’ and ‘Die Hard’ star, dies at 66

Gilyard also appeared in "Top Gun" and co-starred on "Matlock" before becoming a professor at UNLV.
Clarence Gilyard stars as James Trivette in Walker, Texas Ranger.
Clarence Gilyard, who starred as Jimmy Trivette on "Walker, Texas Ranger," (above) and had roles in "Die Hard" and "Top Gun," has died at 66. Courtesy Everett Collection

Actor Clarence Gilyard, who had supporting roles in the '80s classics "Die Hard" and "Top Gun" and a starring role on "Walker, Texas Ranger," has died at 66.

Gilyard also became a theater professor and author in the latter half of his career. His death was announced on Nov. 28 by the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, where he taught in the College of Fine Arts.

“It is with profound sadness that I share this news,” said UNLV Dean Nancy J. Uscher in a news release. “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."

Gilyard had been suffering from a long illness, according to the Las Vegas Review-Journal.

Adrian Pasdar as Lt. Charles "Chipper" Piper and Clarence Gilyard, Jr. as Lt. Marcus "Sundown" Williams.
Clarence Gilyard's first movie role was as Lt. Marcus "Sundown" Williams in "Top Gun."CBS via Getty Images

In a career that began in 1981, Gilyard had roles in some of the most iconic movies of the 1980s as well as two long stints on hit television shows with "Walker, Texas Ranger" and "Matlock."

The Washington native grew up around the country as an Air Force brat before a class at Cal State University, Long Beach, got him into acting, according to Variety.

One of his most memorable roles was as Theo, the wise-cracking computer hacker working with Alan Rickman's Hans Gruber in "Die Hard" in 1988. He also had a small role as a fellow pilot to Tom Cruise's Maverick in "Top Gun" and a brief appearance in "The Karate Kid Part II."

Gilyard later brought back his Theo character for a DieHard Battery commercial with star Bruce Willis that aired during the Super Bowl last year.

His television breakthrough came when he joined the cast of "Matlock" as private investigator Conrad McMasters in 1989 and appeared in a total of 96 episodes of the show starring TV legend Andy Griffith.

"Andy could have chosen any one of a thousand guys to be his partner for four seasons and he chose me," Gilyard told the Las Vegas Review-Journal in 2017. "Andy was funny and a raconteur and a craftsman. I don’t think I was funny before him. He would teach me comic timing."

Gilyard followed that by becoming one of the co-stars of "Walker, Texas Ranger," playing Sgt. Jimmy Trivette alongside Chuck Norris from 1993 to 2001.

Walker Texas Ranger
Gilyard starred as Jimmy Trivette for 196 episodes of the '90s television hit "Walker, Texas Ranger." CBS via Getty Images

"He had a national and international following through his celebrated work in the theatre, in film, and television," Uscher said in her statement.

In 2006, Gilyard went into teaching and acting in the theater department at UNLV, where he became a beloved professor. He was still appearing in films as recently as 2019.

“Professor Gilyard was a beacon of light and strength for everyone around him at UNLV,” UNLV film chair Heather Addison said in a statement. “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!”