Clarence Gilyard Jr., the character actor best known for his role as Theo in Die Hard, has died. He was 66 years old. Gilyard has a decades-long career as an actor and author, with a regular role on Matlock and years playing Jimmy Trivette, Cordell Walker’s partner on the original Walker Texas Ranger. In addition to Die Hard, his film credits include the Left Behind trilogy, in which he played a preacher, and the original Top Gun, in which Gilyard played Marcus “Sundown” Williams. His passing was confirmed by the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, where Gilyard had been working as a film and theatre professor at the UNLV College of Fine Arts.
No specific cause of death has been named. Some sources are reporting a “long illness,” which lines up with the language from UNLV.
“Professor Gilyard was a beacon of light and strength for everyone around him,” UNLV film chair Heather Addison said in a statement (via Variety). “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!”
Born on Christmas Eve in 1955, Gilyard grew up in a military family which originally hailed from New Orleans, Louisiana, but moved frequently, spending bits of his childhood Air Force bases in Hawaii, Texas, and Florida. In 1979, he moved to Los Angeles in order to pursue an acting career, and got his start on stage in the play Bleacher Bums. It would not be long before Gilyard transitioned into television, with minor roles on shows like Diff’rent Strokes, The Facts of Life, and Simon & Simon. His first regular work came as Officer Benjamin Webster in the final season of CHiPs.
Gilyard’s film debut was in Top Gun, but it would not take long for him to get more feature work. After an appearance in The Karate Kid Part II in 1986, Gilyard would have his career-defining role as Theo, the computer genius who took down Nakatomi Plaza, in Die Hard. He was the only surviving member of the gang of terrorists, but surprisingly is canonically dead — because of a 2020 commercial in which he was one of the Die Hard actors to return in to advertise Die Hard car batteries.
In 1989, Gilyard scored the role of Conrad McMasters, a private investigator, on the long-running Andy Griffith series Matlock. He appeared in more than 80 episodes of the series before taking the role of Jimmy Trivette. Jimmy appeared in all 196 episodes of the series’ eight-season run, giving Gilyard back-to-back-to-back characters (in Theo, McMasters, and Jimmy) that would have been potentially career-defining for any character actor.
Gilyard would continue to work after the end of Walker, but settled down to focus on his writing and his academic work at that point. He appeared in some Walker TV movies, the 2018 film Christmas on the Coast, and a number of other films, including the upcoming movies The Driver and Eleanor’s Bench.
Gilyard is survived by his wife Elena and six children. Our condolences go out to his family, friends, fans, and collaborators during this difficult time.