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SYFY WIRE obituary

'Die Hard' and 'Top Gun' fan favorite Clarence Gilyard Jr. passes away at 66

He was perhaps best known for playing Theo, the computer-hacking member of Hans Gruber's squad of mercenaries.

By Josh Weiss
Clarence Gilyard Jr.

Clarence Gilyard Jr. — an actor known for prominent roles in classic '80s films like Top Gun, The Karate Kid Part II, and Die Hard — has passed away at the age of 66. A specific cause of death was not specified, although The New York Post reports that Gilyard Jr. had been suffering from a lengthy illness. The unfortunate news was originally confirmed by The University of Nevada, Las Vegas’ College of Fine Arts, where he served as an associate professor of acting. Gilyard Jr. was perhaps best-known for playing Theo, the cocky computer hacker on Hans Gruber's squad of mercenaries in the first Die Hard film with Bruce Willis.

"It is with profound sadness that I share this news," Dr. Nancy J. Uscher, Dean of UNLV, said in a statement. "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. He had a national and international following through his celebrated work in the theatre, in film, and television. His generosity of spirit was boundless - he was always ready to contribute to projects and performances however possible. 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."

"Professor Gilyard was a beacon of light and strength for everyone around him at UNLV," added 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!"

"Some may find it surprising to know that Clarence valued his appointment as a university professor as highly, maybe higher, then his illustrious career as a TV star," concluded UNLV theatre professor Nate Bynum. "It was a major goal for him. He loved his UNLV family and, in particular, the students he instructed in his classroom. Gone too soon."

Born Clarence Alfred Gilyard Jr. in Moses Lake, Washington around Christmas 1955, the actor earned his BA in Theatre Arts from California State University, Dominguez Hills. After enjoying two major starring roles in a pair of long-running television series — Matlock (1989-1993) and Walker, Texas Ranger (1993-2001) — he attended Southern Methodist University for an MFA in Theatre Performance.

Speaking with the Las Vegas Review-Journal in 2017, Gilyard Jr. discussed his Die Hard role, explaining how director John McTiernan afforded him plenty of input on the character of Theo.

"[He] didn’t want a comedian, but he wanted wit," the actor explained. "So they were constantly asking me, 'What would you say, what would you do?' ... I’ve been blessed. I’ve worked with Michael Mann, John Avildsen, Tony Scott. There are actors who are better looking, more talented, but at that time, the directors who were after me, they said, 'This kid needs to be in my movie.'"