Clarence Darnell Gilyard, Jr. (born December 24, 1955) is a former American actor and current college professor who has featured in movies and television since 1980, who's known for his character-type roles. He is sometimes credited as Clarence A. Gilyard. Gilyard is best known for his roles as Andy Griffith's second private investigator and right-hand man, Conrad McMasters, on the popular 1980s legal drama series, Matlock (a role he played from 1989 to 1993), and as Chuck Norris's partner and best friend, Texas Ranger, James "Jimmy" Trivette, on the popular 1990s crime drama, Walker, Texas Ranger. In the 2000s, he also played Rev. Bruce Barnes in two of the three Left Behind: The Movie films.
In 1980, Gilyard moved to L.A. to become an actor. Gilyard became the first black actor to undertake the role of the cheerleader in "Bleacher Bums" before he segued into TV roles. Gilyard has made guest appearances (as a character actor) on TV shows such as Diff'rent Strokes, The Facts of Life, 227, Simon & Simon and Riptide. Gilyard was on the final season of the NBC TV series CHiPs as Officer Benjamin Webster from 1982-1983. Next, he co-starred with Jim Carrey in the 1984 NBC sitcom "The Duck Factory" .
Gilyard's movie debut was in 1986 as Radar Intercept Officer (RIO) Sundown in Top Gun. He was also a military man in the 1986 film The Karate Kid, Part II. His most famous movie role is in the 1988 action film Die Hard. He was Theo, a computer expert and one of the terrorists. He also played in Left Behind: The Movie, and its sequel, Left Behind II: Tribulation Force as Reverend Bruce Barnes.
Gilyard came back to series television for the first time in five years, only this time, it proved to be a successful move when he portrayed that of a young private eye, Conrad McMasters, on the drama series, Matlock, from 1989 to 1993, when he replaced Kene Holliday that same season, due to his arrest with his drug/alcohol abuse. Gilyard, who had been a fan of Griffith's, having been a four-year-old boy at the time, had beaten out three other actors for the role, when a screen-test came. He also had the distinct chemistry with his series lead, Andy Griffith, for four years, both on-screen and off, when Griffith was very difficult to work with himself. Unlike many actors, with the exception of both Holliday & Daniel Roebuck (whom he replaced Gilyard in 1993), he had almost appeared in every Matlock episode for his three seasons he stayed on the show. After the show had moved from NBC to ABC for the series' seventh season, he was about to work on a pilot for another series on CBS, hence, most of Gilyard's appearances have been reduced on Matlock.
In 1993, his dream would also come true as he would earn yet another co-starring role opposite Chuck Norris as Texas Ranger James "Jimmy" Trivette on Walker, Texas Ranger, which was a much better hit. Being the Western man that he is, it was another role that he would take as he enjoyed performing stunts and dangerous work on and off the set, at the same time that his new relationship with Norris would be best pals, mirroring away from the set. In a 2005 interview with A&E Biography, he said that Norris' Walker character was a cult-classic Western hero, from when he was growing up, other westerns that both he & his series' star had watched, during their era, which obviously became their second fathers. He would continue playing the same role until 2001, making Gilyard one of the top stars in Hollywood, having to co-star with two legends, 12 seasons altogether in two separate roles.
He briefly appeared in the October 16, 2005 television movie "Walker, Texas Ranger: Trial by Fire". Gilyard had only a cameo in the movie due to the filming's conflict with a long-planned family vacation.
Gilyard was born in Moses Lake, Washington, the son of Clarence Gilyard, Sr., a U.S. Air Force officer. He spent one year as an Air Force Academy cadet before leaving to attend Sterling College. He played football in college, and is a member of the Sigma Chi Fraternity. He was also raised in Rialto, California, where he attended Eisenhower High School and was an excellent student, before he graduated in 1973.
He has a younger brother who graduated from the Air Force Academy in 1985. In 2003, Gilyard returned to college to receive a masters in teaching theatre at Southern Methodist University. He is currently an Associate Professor in the College of Fine Arts Department of Theatre at the University of Nevada Las Vegas.