Clarence Gilyard Jr., 'Die Hard' and 'Top Gun' Actor, Dead at 66

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His death was announced on Nov. 28.

Actor Clarence Gilyard Jr., best known for his roles in Walker, Texas Ranger, Top Gun, and Die Hard, has died after battling an undisclosed illness. He was 66.

The University of Nevada, Las Vegas (UNLV)—where Gilyard had been working as an associate professor at the College of Fine Arts—announced the news in a statement released on Monday.

“It is with profound sadness that I share this news,” Dean Nancy Uscher said in the statement shared on Instagram. “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.”

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UNLV film chair Heather Addison remembered Gilyard as a “beacon of light and strength for everyone around him at UNLV,” noting, “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!”

The post further went on to praise his lengthy career in television, film and theatre as an actor, director and producer that spanned over three decades.

After studying Theatre Arts at California State University, Gilyard landed his first role on American sitcom Diff’rent Strokes in 1981. Five years later he went on to make his film debut as Sundown, an elite fighter pilot, in blockbuster Top Gun.

The Washington native continued finding success in show biz, starring with Bruce Willis in 1988's Die Hard as commanding computer hacker, Theo. He also appeared in the Karate Kid and Left Behind movies, and was featured in several TV roles including on CHiPS, The Facts of Life, 227 and Simon & Simon, among others.

His big primetime TV break came a year later in 1989, when he landed the role of Conrad McMasters on the NBC legal drama Matlock, starring opposite Andy Griffith. He then portrayed Chuck Norris’ crime-fighting partner, stepping into the memorable slot of Jimmy Trivette on Walker, Texas Ranger.

After gaining immense success and establishing an accomplished acting career, Gilyard stepped away from acting in 2006 to start teaching at UNLV and directing productions at the university’s Nevada Conservatory Theatre.

“I’m wired to teach. And I’m a professional, but the profession has to feed the classroom. It’s what stimulates my characters because I’m in touch with people’s lives in the 21st century,” he told the Las Vegas Review-Journal in 2017.

“I work best as an artist when I’m in a fertile arena. That means creative and imaginative. Being with all those millennials — I don’t understand what they’re saying but I’m siphoning off their energy.”

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