For movie and TV fans in the ‘80s and ‘90s, Clarence Gilyard Jr. was a familiar presence. The actor, known for roles in Die Hard, Matlock and Walker, Texas Ranger has passed away at the age of 66. According to the Las Vegas Review-Journal, Gilyard was suffering from a long illness, but no other details about his death have been released. The TV star’s death was confirmed on Monday, in a statement from the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, where Gilyard was a professor at the 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,” UNLV College of Fine Arts Dean Nancy Uscher said in a statement. “His generosity of spirit was boundless—he was always ready to contribute to projects and performances however possible.”
Gilyard’s big break came as tech expert Theo in Die Hard. In a movie full of memorable characters, he left a mark as the comedic relief of the bad guys. He followed that up by joining the very successful TV series Matlock, where he played private investigator Conrad McMasters opposite star Andy Griffith. But the role he’s best known for is as Chuck Norris’ partner James Trivette on the long-running action drama Walker, Texas Ranger.
A common thread among all the Top Gun actor’s performances was the fun and enthusiasm he brought to his characters. It always felt like Gilyard was portraying every part with a twinkle in his eye, something he clearly passed on to his students and colleagues.
“Professor Gilyard was a beacon of light and strength for everyone around him,” UNLV film chair Heather Addison said. “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!”
Colleagues, former students and fans paid tribute to the CHiPs actor on social media, posting their condolences and remembrances.
Film educator Roudi B. celebrated the star’s memorable roles, tweeting, “Before hackers, sweaters and Maverick were cool, Clarence Gilyard was.”
Film critic Ro Moore highlighted Gilyard’s groundbreaking work, writing, “Top Gun, Texas Ranger, Die Hard Tech Genius Thief, and Ace Investigator. RIP Clarence Gilyard, Jr. your talent for busting stereotypes is immeasurable.”
“This hurts. Clarence Gilyard was a centered presence in the UNLV Theatre Dept. I enjoyed several contemplative chats with him over the years. He lived a remarkable life. Peace be with his family and all who mourn him @UNLVFineArts & beyond. #RIPClarenceGilyard #vegastheatre,” wrote artist Sarah O’Connell.
While the professor’s loss will be felt by all the students he doesn’t get to pass his knowledge on to, his legacy lives on in those whose art and talent he nurtured and encouraged.