Nancy J. Uscher, the dean for the College of Fine Arts at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, where Gilyard served as a theater and film professor, announced his passing on Monday. A cause of death was not given.
“It is with profound sadness that I share this news,” Uscher said. “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. He had a national and international following through his celebrated work in the theater, in film, and television.”
“His generosity of spirit was boundless — he was always ready to contribute to projects and performances however possible,” she continued. “We remember Clarence with joy and gratitude for all he contributed to the College of Fine Arts, the UNLV community, and, through his impressive personal achievements, to the world.”
CBS Photo Archvie/Getty Images Clarence Gilyard Jr., star of ‘Die Hard’ and ‘Walker, Texas Ranger,’ died at 66.
Heather Addison, the UNLV film chair, called Gilyard “a beacon of light and strength for everyone around him at UNLV.”
“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,” she said. “We love you and will miss you dearly, Professor G!”
Gilyard’s career spanned stage and screen over more than 30 years. He once told the St. Anthony Messenger that a part in a children’s theater production based on Aesop’s Fables led him to his first play, Bleacher Bums, about a group of Chicago Cubs baseball fans. Because of that production, he said he “started taking an acting class in Hollywood.”
Among the roles he’s become most known for, Gilyard appeared in 20 episodes of the 1980s series CHIPs as Officer Benjamin Webster and in 85 episodes of the 1990s series Matlock as Conrad McMasters. The actor played naval pilot Marcus “Sundown” Williams in 1986’s Top Gun; Theo, the obnoxious tech specialist of Alan Rickman’s Hans Gruber, in 1988’s Die Hard; and New Hope Village Church pastor Bruce Barnes in the Left Behind movie trilogy of the early 2000s.
Gilyard received his BA in Theatre Arts from California State University, Dominguez Hills. He would later take a sabbatical after Matlock and Walker, Texas Ranger to complete an MFA in Theatre Performance at Southern Methodist University.
UNLV theater professor Nate Bynum said teaching was a “major goal” for Gilyard. He said, “Some may find it surprising to know that Clarence valued his appointment as a university professor as highly, maybe higher, then his illustrious career as a TV star.”