Clarence Gilyard Jr.: 5 Things To Know About ‘Top Gun’ & ‘Die Hard’ Star Dead At 66

Get to know Clarence Gilyard Jr., the author, university professor, and actor who starred in the original 'Top Gun' with Tom Cruise.

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Clarence Gilyard Jr.
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Image Credit: Courtesy Everett Collection

  • Clarence Gilyard Jr. was an actor, author, and university professor.
  • He starred in the original ‘Top Gun’ movie.
  • He died at the age of 66.

Actor Clarence Gilyard Jr. passed away at the age of 66. The University of Nevada, Las Vegas, where Clarence was a professor, confirmed his death in a statement on November 28, according to Variety. “Professor Gilyard was a beacon of light and strength for everyone around him,” said UNLV film chair Heather Addison. “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!”

Clarence is best know for starring in the original Top Gun movie with Tom Cruise. He also appeared in several popular TV shows including Walker, Texas Ranger. To learn more about Clarence, keep reading below!

Clarence Gilyard Jr.
Clarence Gilyard Jr. (Photo: Courtesy Everett Collection)

Clarence is from a military family.

Clarence was born into a military family in Washington state. His father Clarence Gilyard Sr. was a U.S. Air Force officer. Clarence grew up on Air Force bases in Hawaii, Texas, and Florida, before he moved to San Bernardino, California where he went to high school.

His first movie was ‘Top Gun’.

Clarence played Lieutenant Junior Grade Marcus ‘Sundown’ Williams in 1986’s Top Gun. The film starred Tom Cruise, Kelly McGillis, Val Kilmer, and Anthony Edwards. Clarence did not appear in the 2022 sequel film, Top Gun: Maverick, which became the highest-grossing movie of the year with over $1.4 billion worldwide.

Clarence’s other most notable film role is Bruce Willis‘ Die Hard, where he played the terrorist computer whiz Theo. On television, Clarence played Ranger James Trivette in the action crime series Walker, Texas Ranger. He also starred in the legal drama series Matlock as Conrad McMasters.

Clarence Gilyard Jr.
Clarence Gilyard Jr. in ‘Die Hard’ (Photo: 20th Century Fox/Kobal/Shutterstock)

He was a university professor.

Clarence was a film and theatre professor at UNLV College of Fine Arts before his death. He joined the theatre department back in 2006. According to his biography at the university, Clarence took a professional sabbatical and earned his masters of fine arts (MFA) in theater performance from Southern Methodist University in 2003, before he started teaching.

He was an author.

Clarence authored ten books in his lifetime. His first book, The Dance of the Star, was released in 1990. His final book, Red Lights, came out in 2011.

He had six children.

Clarence was the proud dad of six children from two marriages. He got divorced from his first wife, Catherine Dutch. He married his second wife, Elena, in 2001 and they were still together at the time of his passing. Clarence spoke about his commitment to his family in an interview with Las Vegas Review-Journal in November 2017.

“I met my wife, got married, then we had kids, and my first two children didn’t have me,” Clarence said. “I was out acting all the time — 15 straight years on network television. But the commitment to my family and my wife is paramount. I knew if I didn’t work on the marriage that it wouldn’t work.”

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