Clarence Gilyard, veteran actor who had notable roles in Die Hard, Matlock, and Walker, Texas Ranger before becoming a theater professor and author, has died. He was 66.
The University of Nevada Las Vegas College of Fine Arts, where Gilyard taught, announced his death Monday afternoon, according to the Las Vegas Review-Journal. He had been suffering from a long illness. No further details were released.
In a rich and varied career that spanned five decades, Gilyard achieved success in film, television, and on stage. For film fans, he is perhaps best known for playing Theo, Hans Gruber’s cocky computer hacker in 1988’s Die Hard. In the 1990s, he was a familiar face on primetime television, first for playing private investigator Conrad McMasters on the legal drama Matlock and then, in a career-defining role, as Ranger James Trivette on the long-running Walker, Texas Ranger.
Born Clarence Darnell Gilyard Jr. in 1955 in Moses Lake, Washington, he grew up as an Air Force brat. He entered the U.S. Air Force Academy after high school but left after a year. He attended Sterling College in Kansas, playing wide receiver for the football team, but couldn’t afford to stay there and moved to California. He then enrolled at Cal State University Long Beach and signed up for an acting class.
Gilyard dropped out of college and appeared in minor television roles in series including Diff’rent Strokes. He also played Officer Ben Webster on the last season of ChiPs in the 1982-83 season and Roland Culp, opposite Jim Carrey, on NBC’s The Duck Factory.
Gilyard’s big TV break came in 1989 when he landed the role of Conrad McMasters on NBC’s Matlock opposite a boyhood hero in 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 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.”
Replacing the fired Kene Holliday, Gilyard played Ben Matlock’s second private investigator in nearly every episode from seasons four to seven, with guest appearances in season eight, for a total of 96 episodes.
He left Matlock in 1993 to star on CBS’ Walker, Texas Ranger. Starring opposite Chuck Norris’ Walker, Gilyard played Texas Ranger Sergeant James “Jimmy” Trivette, the protagonist’s best friend and partner. A phenomenally popular show, Walker, Texas Ranger ran for eight seasons — a total of 203 episodes — and spawned a 2005 television film, Trial by Fire, that featured a cameo by Gilyard.
His other notable TV credits include NBC’s The Facts of Life and 227, CBS’ Simon & Simon, and a supporting role in Michael Mann’s highly influential television movie L.A. Takedown.
Gilyard’s first film appearance came in 1986 and was the not-insignificant role of Lieutenant Junior Grade Marcus “Sundown” Williams, one of the elite fighter pilots in Tony Scott’s monster hit Top Gun.
Source: The Hollywood Reporter