Clarence Gilyard Jr., a skilled scene thief who starred in ’80s blockbusters Top Gun and Die Hard, has died after battling an unknown illness. He was 66 years old.
The actor’s death was confirmed by the University of Nevada at Las Vegas, where he was a film and drama professor at the UNLV College of Fine Arts.
“It is with deep sadness that I share this news,” Dean Nancy Uscher wrote in a post on Instagram. “His students were deeply inspired by him, as was everyone who knew him. He had many exceptional talents and was well known at the university for his commitment to teaching and his professional achievements.”
Gilyard reportedly died of “a long illness,” but the details of his death are still unclear.
Born in Moses Lake, WA in 1955, Gilyard made his film debut opposite Tom Cruise in Top Gun (1986), portraying an elite fighter pilot named Marcus “Sundown” Williams.
The actor later starred with Bruce Willis as detective John McClaine in Die Hard (1988) as Theo, Hans Gruber’s eccentric computer hacker who confiscates the Nakatomi Plaza’s security codes.
Gilyard reprized his role as Theo in when he appeared with Willis in a 2020 Advance Auto Parts ad promoting the brand’s DieHard automotive batteries. The two-minute spot shows Theo taking McClane [Willis] on an action-packed mission to get a replacement battery for his dead car.
His other film roles include roles in the films The Karate Kid Part II and Left Behind, while his expansive list of TV roles includes appearances in CHiPS, The Facts of Life, Diff’rent Strokes . “227” and “Simon & Simon”.
In addition to his supporting work on screens big and small, Gilyard has had recurring roles on several hit TV shows, most notably “Matlock” and the CBS western drama “Walker, Texas Ranger.” In the latter, he played Jimmy Trivette, the right-hand man of Chuck Norris’ no-nonsense Sergeant Walker.
Gilyard left Hollywood in 2006 to join the University of Nevada Theater Department at Las Vegas as an adjunct professor.
“I’m wired to teach. And I’m a professional, but the profession needs to enrich the classroom,” Gilyard said of his career transition in a 2017 interview with the Las Vegas Review-Journal. It stimulates my characters because I’m in touch with people’s lives in the 21st century.”
He added: “I work best as an artist when I’m in a fertile arena. That means creative and imaginative. Being with all these millennials — I don’t understand what they’re saying, but I’m siphoning off their energy.”
He continued to take on roles when it proved he couldn’t resist the challenge.
In 2016, Gilyard was acclaimed as Hoak Colburn in the Neil Simon Festival production of Driving Miss Daisy at the University of New Mexico’s Popejoy Hall, alongside former Walker, Texas Ranger co-star Sheree J .Wilson.
In the 2018 edition of the football video game Madden NFL, Gilyard played high school coach Devin Wade in the longshot portion of the game.
Although he had decades of professional television and film experience, according to his peers, it was his work as an educator that meant the most to him.
“Some may find it surprising to know that Clarence valued his appointment as university professor as much, perhaps more than, his illustrious career as a television star,” said Nate Bynum, a colleague at UNLV Theaters, in a statement. “That was a big goal for him. He loved his UNLV family and especially the students he taught in his classroom. Gone too soon.”
The Washingtonian’s fans and admirers were devastated at his loss.
“Professor Gilyard was a beacon of light and strength to everyone around him,” said Heather Addison, UNLV film director. “Whenever we asked him how he was, he cheerfully declared that he was ‘blessed.'”
She added: “But we are really the ones who have been fortunate enough to have been his colleagues and students for so many years. We love you and will miss you very much, Professor G!”
“Clarence Gilyard is deceased” tweeted fellow actor Chris Reed. “RIP to legendary screen presence.”
Film critic Christopher Lawrence too paid homage: “This will make my annual Christmas screening of Die Hard – which is definitely a Christmas movie – infinitely sadder.”
https://nypost.com/2022/11/29/die-hard-actor-chris-gilyard-jr-dead-at-66/ “Die Hard” actor Chris Gilyard Jr. has died at the age of 66