Who is Sundown in Top Gun? Fans pay respects to actor Clarence Gilyard

Ella Kipling November 29, 2022
Who is Sundown in Top Gun? Fans pay respects to actor Clarence Gilyard
Photo by CBS via Getty Images

Tributes have been pouring in for Clarence Gilayrd, the actor known for his roles as Sundown in Top Gun and Theo in Die Hard, who has died at the age of 66.

The news was announced by the college of fine arts at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, where Gilyard worked as a professor in stage and screen acting and film.

Dean of the college, Nancy Uscher, said on Twitter: “His students were deeply inspired by him, as were all who knew him. He had extraordinary talents and was extremely well-known in the university through his dedication to teaching and his professional accomplishments. His generosity of spirit was boundless. He will be so missed.”

Fans have been reflecting on Gilyard’s impressive acting career, with many focusing on his appearance as Sundown in Top Gun.

Photo by Getty Images

Who is Sundown in Top Gun?

Clarence Gilyard is known for playing the role of Marcus Williams in Top Gun 1986.

Sundown is a Lieutenant naval flight officer who was trained on the Grumman F-14 Tomcat. He is Charles “Chipper” Piper’s radar intercept officer (RIO).

However, after Goose dies, Sundown becomes Maverick’s new RIO. During this new arrangement, the pair struggle to get along.

Why is Gilyard’s call sign “Sundown”?

Gilyard’s characters call sign, a unique name assigned to each pilot, in the movie is “Sundown.” Other call signs in the movies include the famous “Goose,” and “Maverick,” as well as “Viper,” “Jester,” and “Charlie.”

Some fans have interpreted Sundown’s call sign to mean that he is the last thing enemy fighters see before they go down.

A chilling metaphor, this meaning is simultaneously cool and a little bit ominous, though Top Gun has never shied away from darker themes such as death.

Tributes pour in for Clarence Gilyard

As news of Gilyard’s death broke, tributes began to pour in for the actor on Twitter. Many reflected on their favorite of Gilyard’s roles, with his appearance in Top Gun proving to be a defining role for the star.

One fan wrote: “RIP sir. Clarence Gilyard passed away…actor and professor. I remember him from Matlock, thought it was the coolest to see him as a fighter pilot in Top Gun aka #Sundown and roles in Diehard and Walker Texas Ranger.”

Another dubbed Gilyard “one of nicest and most gracious people.”

“Completely shocked and saddened learning the death of actor Clarence Gilyard. Another staple of my childhood gone,” a fan tweeted, “while he’s known as Trivette from ‘Walker, TX Ranger,’ his coolest role for me was as Sundown in Tony Scott’s classic “Top Gun.” Rest in peace!!”

What else has Gilyard appeared in?

In addition to his Top Gun and Die Hard roles, Gilyard featured in the TV lawyer drama Matlock as the private investigator Conrad McMasters.

He later took on the role in Walker, Texas Ranger, alongside Chuck Norris.

However, in recent years Gilyard’s passion lay in teaching. According to the Review-Journal, in 2010 Gilyard described university as “too much fun.”

While his manager was not happy that Gilyard wasn’t working as an actor, Gilyard said: “Once you start a semester and meet those students, it’s like doing a TV series. You’re plugged into them. How can you leave them once you see in their eyes that they’re depending on you?”

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Ella Kipling is a freelance reporter at GRV Media. She regularly writes a mixture of news and features for HITC, Reality Titbit, and The Focus, and she has been part of the team since 2020. Ella also helped launch GRV’s student-centered website Freshered in January 2021 and continues to contribute to the site with pieces on current affairs, sports, and student advice. After graduating from the University of Birmingham with a BA (Hons) in English Literature, Ella is currently studying for an MA in Magazine Journalism at City University. Ella has a keen interest in current affairs and can usually be found reading the news, with her nose in a book (and updating her Goodreads), talking about women’s rights, or listening to showtunes.