December 24, 1955
Moses Lake, Washington, United States
As the son of an enlisted man, Clarence Gilyard (sometimes billed as Clarence Gilyard Jr.) might have been expected to follow in his father's stead. Originally, he attended the US Air Force Academy, but transferred after one year to Sterling College where he played football and first began acting. In 1980, the lanky actor relocated to L.A. and began to pursue an acting career in earnest, first in children's theater. Later, Gilyard became the first black actor to undertake the role of the cheerleader in "Bleacher Bums" before he segued into TV roles. In 1982, he joined the cast of the NBC police drama "CHiPs" for its final season before supporting Jim Carrey in the short-lived NBC sitcom "The Duck Factory" (1984).By the mid-80s. Gilyard was concentrating on film roles, making an auspicious debut as the radar technician who has difficulties achieving the expectations of his cohort 'Maverick' (Tom Cruise) in Tony Scott's slick "Top Gun" (1986). Gilyard went on to essay a military man in "The Karate Kid" (also 1986) and was cast as one of the terrorists in the blockbuster "Die Hard" (1988), but that one breakthrough feature role proved elusive. The actor instead returned to series TV in 1988 joining the cast of "Matlock" (NBC) and spending five years playing the legman for Andy Griffith's folksy attorney. When that series switched networks, Gilyard moved to CBS to co-star alongside Chuck Norris as the former football player-turned-lawman partner of "Walker, Texas Ranger."