Actor Clarence Gilyard Jr., perhaps best known for his butt-kicking lawman opposite Chuck Norris on TV’s “Walker, Texas Ranger,” has died at age 66.
Gilyard was recently a film and theater professor at the University of Nevada Las Vegas’ College of Fine Arts, which announced his death Monday. The school didn’t provide details.
“His students were deeply inspired by him, as were all who knew him,” Dean Nancy J. Uscher said on Instagram. “He had many extraordinary talents and was extremely well-known in the university through his dedication to teaching and his professional accomplishments.”
Gilyard also made a name for himself as private investigator Conrad McMasters on 85 episodes of “Matlock” (1989-93) In a getTV interview, he credited the show’s star, Andy Griffith, for helping him develop comic chops.
Gilyard made his major film debut in “Top Gun” (1986), which led to a meetup with producer Joel Silver to play the bad guy computer whiz Theo in “Die Hard” (1989), the performer recalled to an NPR affiliate.
“They’d been looking for me. This is like out of a dream,” he said.
Playing the role of a terrorist was “so far outside the box for a young African-American, you know what I mean, to be offered this,” he said.
But Gilyard’s calling card was to be Ranger James Trivette from 1993 to 2001 on “Walker, Texas Ranger.”
Gilyard told GetTV he was about to sign with CBS for a pilot of his own but established action star Norris had made a deal with the network for 13 episodes of “Walker.” “Thirteen checks versus one check” and Gilyard’s previous martial arts and rodeo experience made him a natural for the role, he said.
“And because I knew all my competition in town, it was pretty obvious that I was really the only person that could fit that character,” the Moses Lake, Washington, native said. “You need to fit a character in a television series.”
Here’s the scene in which he meets Norris’s Cordell Walker: