Professor-turned-Top Gun actor Clarence Gillard dies aged 66

Film and television actor Clarence Gillard – best known for supporting roles in the films Top Gun and Die Hard and for starring in the TV show Walker, Texas Ranger – has died, according to the university where he taught was. He was 66 years old.

Gilliard had reportedly been ill for a long time, but no other details were immediately available when the College of Fine Arts at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas (UNLV) announced her death in a news release Monday afternoon.

Fans saw Gillard portray a pilot codenamed Sundown in the 1986 Tom Cruise blockbuster Top Gun, which was her film debut. He was also the computer-smart terrorist Theo in the 1988 Bruce Willis film Die Hard, a role he reprized in the 2021 Super Bowl commercial. And in 1989, he began portraying private investigator Conrad McMasters as a regular on the primetime TV lawyer drama Matlock, starring Andy Griffith.

In 1993, after 85 appearances on Matlock, Gillard moved on and played sidekick to the titular character of Chuck Norris on the TV crime drama Walker, Texas Ranger. He portrayed the character Jimmy Trivette during the show’s entire eight seasons – and also directed one of its 196 episodes – before it ended in 2001.

UNLV brought Gillard onto the faculty of its theater department in 2006 as an associate professor. He cherished his role as an instructor there and preferred it for more on-screen credits, the The Las Vegas Review-Journal reported,

Gillard described her love of teaching in 2010, according to the Review-Journal.

“My manager-agent is not happy that I am not working, but university is a lot of fun,” Gillard said at the time. “And once you start a semester and meet those students, it’s like doing a TV series.

“You’re so plugged into them. Once you see in their eyes that they’re depending on you how can you leave them? They have aspirations of their own growth for those 15 weeks.”

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Nancy Usher, dean of the school’s College of Fine Arts, said in a statement Monday that Gillard “deeply inspired” her students.

“His generosity of spirit was limitless – he was always willing to contribute to projects and performances however possible,” Usher’s statement said.

film critic courtney howard said Gilliard’s body of work “cemented its place in film history”, but her academic career was of equal consequence, making “myriad impacts in real life”, it said on Twitter late Monday.

Prior to beginning her acting career, Gillard was born in Moses Lake, Washington, and grew up in a military family, living on airbases across the US before settling in California. He later attended the US Air Force Academy for one year and eventually graduated from California State University, Dominguez Hills.

Gillard was the father of six children. He was divorced from Catherine Dutko and married his wife Elena Gillard in 2001.

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