A Die Hard And Top Gun Star Has Passed Away

By Renee Hansen | Published

Deadline reports that Actor, professor, and author Clarence Gilyard Jr, known for his roles in Die Hard and  Top Gun, died at age 66. According to The University of Nevada, Las Vegas College of Fine Arts, where Gilyard was a professor, the cause of death is unknown. 

Clarence Gilyard
Clarence Gilyard Jr. in Die Hard
Clarence Gilyard Jr. in Top Gun

Clarence Gilyard began his acting career in the early 1980s when he appeared in two episodes of the Diff’rent Strokes TV series. He also appeared in several other popular 80s series The Fact of Life, 227, Simon & Simon, and Riptide. 

He would then be cast in a recurring role for the sixth and final season of the series CHiPS, an American crime drama that followed motorcycle officers of the California Highway Patrol.  Clarence Gilyard was cast as Officer Benjamin Webster, starring alongside Erik Estrada. He also starred with Jim Carrey in The Duck Factory.

Clarence Gilyard would find his movie debut as  F-14 Tomcat radar intercept officer Lt. Marcus “Sundown” Williams in the 1986 box office hit Top Gun. In 1988 he was cast as Theo in the movie Die Hard. Theo was the criminal computer expert who aided Hans Gruber (Alan Rickman) and his crew of terrorists. Theo is the only surviving villain in this film. 

He is well known for his other roles, including Walker, Texas Ranger, and he co-starred opposite Andy Griffith in the legal drama Matlock as Conrad McMasters in the 1990s. He portrayed New Hope Village Church pastor Bruce Barnes in  Left Behind: The Movie and the sequel, Left Behind II: Tribulation Force.

Clarence Gilyard was born in Moses Lake, Washington, and moved to Los Angeles in 1979 to pursue his acting career. Before breaking into TV roles, he played the first black cheerleader in the production Bleacher Bums. This play was eventually made into made for TV film that followed a group of Chicago Cubs baseball fans in the bleachers at Wrigley Field. 

He would then attend California State University and receive a BA in Theatre Arts. Later in his career, he would take a break from acting when he attended Southern Methodist University, where he received an MFA in Theatre Performance. This would then lead to his position at The University of Nevada, Las Vegas College of Fine Arts.

In 2020, Clarence Gilyard joined Die Hard costars Bruce Willis and De’voreaux White in what many fans hoped was a new Die Hard film. The trio brought back their characters from the film, Theo, John McClane, and limo driver Argyle, respectively, but this wasn’t for a new film. It was a promotion for Advanced Auto Parts’ acquisition of the DieHard battery brand.  It was a great throwback for fans of the film. 

Representatives from The University of Nevada, Las Vegas College of Fine Arts have stated his students will greatly miss the man who greatly inspired them. Clarence Gilyard was described as being generous of spirit, a beacon of light and strength, and will be remembered for all of his contributions to the College of Fine Arts.