Clarence Gilyard Jr. Dies: ‘Walker, Texas Ranger’ and ‘Matlock’ Star Was 66

Clarence Gilyard Jr in 'Walker, Texas Ranger'
CBS/courtesy Everett Collection

Actor and University professor Clarence Gilyard Jr, best known for his roles in popular TV series such as Walker, Texas Ranger and Matlock, has died. He was 66.

The news of Gilyard’s passing was confirmed by the University of Nevada, Las Vegas’ College of Fine Arts, where the actor worked as a film and theater professor. He was said to have been battling a long illness prior to his passing; however, there are no further details on his cause of death.

“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,” said UNLV College of Fine Arts Dean Nancy Uscher in a statement (via Deadline). “He had a national and international following through his celebrated work in the theatre, in film, and television.”

She continued, “We remember Clarence with joy and gratitude for all he contributed to the College of Fine Arts, the UNLV community, and, through his impressive personal achievements, to the world.”

Born on December 24, 1955, in Moses Lake, Washington, Gilyard was born into a military family and grew up on Air Force bases in Hawaii, Texas, and Florida. He attended California State University, Long Beach, majoring in acting, and moved to Los Angeles in 1979 to pursue a career in film and television.

Gilyard made guest appearances as a character actor on TV shows such as Diff’rent Strokes, The Facts of Life, 227, Simon & Simon, and Riptide. In 1982, he joined the final season of the NBC series CHiPs as Officer Benjamin Webster and, in 1984, co-starred with Jim Carrey in the NBC sitcom The Duck Factory.

He made his film debut in 1986, starring in Top Gun as F-14 Tomcat radar intercept officer Lt. Marcus “Sundown” Williams. One of his most memorable movie roles came in the 1988 action film Die Hard, where he played Theo, a criminal computer expert. His other movie appearances include The Karate Kid Part II, Left Behind: The Movie, and its sequel, Left Behind II: Tribulation Force.

His most significant TV roles came in the 1990s, when he played Ben Matlock’s private investigator, Conrad McMasters, on Matlock, and James “Jimmy” Trivette on Walker, Texas Ranger. He would reprise his role as Jimmy in the 2005 television movie Walker, Texas Ranger: Trial by Fire.

Following Walker, Texas Ranger, Gilyard took a break from acting and completed an MFA in Theatre Performance at Southern Methodist University before joining the UNLV College of Fine Arts.