Any Die Hard fan knows Clarence Gilyard Jr, who died this week at age 66. He played Theo, the talented hacker who helped supervillain Hans Gruber.
Gilyard was in the acting business for five decades. And his role in Die Hard was a significant career break. But Gilyard did far more than play a cocky computer expert.
Like, did you know that later in life, Gilyard taught theater? Officials with the University of Nevada-Las Vegas College of Fine Arts announced the death of Gilyard Monday afternoon. He’d taught there since 2006.
“It is with profound sadness that I share this news,” said Dean Nancy Uscher via Instagram. “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.”
And Clarence Gilyard got into acting after attending the Air Force Academy for a year, then playing football at Sterling College in Kansas. He transferred to Cal State University Long Beach where he took his first acting class.
So what was Gilyard’s first role? Let’s just say he had deep roots in classic TV. He portrayed Frank Simpson on two episodes of Diff’rent Strokes. That was back in 1981. His first meaty TV role was playing officer Benjamin Webster on CHiPs. He appeared in 20 episodes during the final season of the series about the California Highway Patrol’s moto division.
Clarence Gilyard then landed a part in a movie that defined that 1980s. And we’re not talking Die Hard. Before he ever portrayed a hacker, Gilyard was an elite pilot on Top Gun. He played Marcus Williams, call sign Sundown. He was Chipper’s radar intercept officer, then served the same role with Tom Cruise’s Maverick.
After Die Hard, Gilyard went back to prime-time TV, where he was a fixture on shows like Matlock and Walker, Texas Ranger. He played Conrad McMasters opposite Andy Griffin on Matlock. Gilyard was in 85 episodes, playing a private investigator.
Then Gilyard switched to Walker, Texas Ranger. As Jimmy Trivette, he was partners and best friends with Chuck Norris’ Conrad Walker. He got to pull from his college days playing football, since Trivette’s backstory included time spent on the roster of the Dallas Cowboys.
But Clarence Gilyard tweaked his acting career when he hit his early 50s. That’s when he started teaching at UNLV.
“I’m wired to teach. And I’m a professional, but the profession has to feed the classroom. It’s what stimulates my characters because I’m in touch with people’s lives in the 21st century,” Gilyard said in an interview with the Las Vegas Review-Journal in 2017.
“I work best as an artist when I’m in a fertile arena. That means creative and imaginative. Being with all those millennials — I don’t understand what they’re saying but I’m siphoning off their energy.”