Clarence Gilyard Jr., 'Walker Texas Ranger' Star, Dead at 66

Clarence Gilyard Jr., the actor best known for his roles Walker, Texas Ranger, Matlock, Die Hard, and Top Gun, has died. The University of Nevada, Las Vegas' College of Fine Arts, where Gilyard was a film and theater professor, announced his death Monday afternoon. No cause of death was given, but the Las Vegas Review-Journal reported the actor had been suffering from a long illness. He was 66.

Born Clarence Darnell Gilyard Jr. in Moses Lake, Washington in 1955, Gilyard "grew up as an Air Force brat," according to The Hollywood Reporter, moving across air bases throughout the U.S. during his adolescence before his family eventually settled in California. After spending a year at the Air Force Academy as a cadet, Gilyard attended Sterling College in Kansas before returning to California, where he California State University, Long Beach and California State University, Dominguez Hills, earning a bachelor's degree in acting. He went on to make his film debut in 1986's Top Gun, starring as naval flight officer Marcus "Sundown" Williams. His TV big primetime TV break came just three years later when he landed the role of Conrad McMasters on the NBC legal drama Matlock opposite Andy Griffith.

In the years that followed, Gilyard added a number of credits to his belt. He perhaps most notably starred as Jimmy Trivette, Chuck Norris' crime-fighting partner, on Walker, Texas Ranger. He appeared in all 196 episodes of the series' eight seasons. He also played computer hacker Theo in Die Hard. His other credits include The Karate Kid Part II, CHiPS, the Left Behind films, Diff'rent Strokes, The Duck Factory, The Facts of Life, Simon & Simon, and L.A. Takedown.

Later in life, Gilyard returned to academia, joining the department of theatre at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas as an associate professor in 2006. In a statement, UNLV film chair Heather Addison remembered Gilyard as "a beacon of light and strength for everyone around him at UNLV," adding, "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!" UNLV theatre professor Nate Bynum said, "He loved his UNLV family and, in particular, the students he instructed in his classroom. Gone too soon."

Gilyard was previously married to Catherine Dutko. He married Elena Gilyard in 2001.