Clarence Gilyard Jr., 'Walker, Texas Ranger' and 'Die Hard' actor, dies at 66: 'A beacon of light'

Actor Clarence Gilyard Jr., known for roles in "Walker, Texas Ranger," "Matlock" and "Die Hard" has died. He was 66.

The University of Nevada Las Vegas, where Gilyard was a stage, screen and film acting professor, announced his death Monday in a press release. It did not give details of the cause.

"It is with profound sadness that I share this news," UNLV College of Fine Arts Dean Nancy J. Uscher said in the statement. "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's Hollywood career spanned across TV and film, first beginning in 1981 when he starred in two episodes of "Diff'rent Strokes," according to IMDb. The actor landed his first big movie role in 1986 in "Top Gun" as he took on the role of Marcus "Sundown" Williams.

In an interview with Nevada's NPR member station, KNPR, Gilyard said his performance in "Top Gun" helped him land his next big role in "Die Hard" in 1988 after producer Joel Silver approached him with the opportunity to play criminal accomplice Theo in the Bruce Willis film.

"They’d been looking for me. This is like out of a dream," he said recalling the meeting on the 20th Century Fox lot.

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After "Die Hard," Gilyard made a return to TV as a series regular in "Matlock" alongside Andy Griffith's Ben Matlock as his private investigator Conrad McMasters. From 1993 to the early aughts he starred in "Walker, Texas Ranger" as James Trivette, the right hand man of Chuck Norris' Cordell Walker.

Gilyard stepped away from acting to pursue his master's in theater at Southern Methodist University, according to the UNLV release.

"Professor Gilyard was a beacon of light and strength for everyone around him at UNLV," UNLV film chair Heather Addison added in the 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."

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Clarence Gilyard, 'Die Hard' and 'Walker, Texas Ranger' actor, dies