His memorable turn as a computer hacker in the Bruce Willis smash led to ongoing roles in “Waker, Texas Ranger” and “Matlock,” and for years he taught theater at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. He died Monday after a long illness. He was 66.
In 2012, St. Anthony Messenger told the story of his journey into the Catholic Church:
Raised in the Lutheran Church-Missouri Synod, he left religion behind during the years he became famous acting alongside Jim Carrey (The Duck Factory), Tom Cruise (Top Gun), Bruce Willis (Die Hard) and on TV, most famously co-starring with Andy Griffith (Matlock), then Chuck Norris (Walker, Texas Ranger). Like so many Hollywood stars, his life off-screen was confused. But, like so many Christians before him, after years of confusion, Clarence found his way home.
Still a film actor (he played a repentant too-late-for-the-Rapture pastor in two of the Left Behind films), he devotes himself these days to university teaching and theater. A striking feature of Clarence, day-to-day, is his deep devotion to his Roman Catholic faith, and, especially, pious devotion to prayer and the Eucharist. “Something about the Catholic Mass was different from any other worship experience,” he says. “To this day, it sustains me.” But he came to this faith along a rocky road.
That road — including a failed marriage and lots of partying — eventually led to an invitation to attend a Catholic Mass:
In spite of his success, or perhaps because of it, there were problems. Clarence’s behavior was not proper for a married man: “My wife left me because I started to have an affair,” he admits. She took the children and wanted a divorce. Clarence got a wake-up call.
“I was speaking a different language than the language of truth and accountability,” he says. Now he was sleepless: “Sure, I was hot as far as television was concerned. But I didn’t have my two babies. I didn’t have my wife. I was in Dallas; they were in Marina del Rey, California. She was filing for divorce.”
It was as much as he could do to go to work each day, he recounts. He ended the extramarital affair and got into a therapy group. “The only thing that was comforting was being in the presence of somebody where I could talk about my pain, then being with a group of people who were talking of their pain,” he remembers.
Someone in the group invited Clarence to go to Mass with him. “So I went to a 5:30 Mass at St. Rita’s in Dallas.” Sunday evening was a hard time for him to be at church, because he was so mindful of everything from the weekend and days, even years, preceding that. He had spent a lot of time on his knees, alone, in his anguish. Now he had to go to his knees in the presence of everyone. “I was in the assembly with everyone, acknowledging…” His voice trails off.
“I don’t know how many Catholics are aware of why we are on our knees in the presence of Jesus,” he continues. “That’s where I needed to be. Mother Church allows that and informs us that way,” he says. “It is one of the great gifts.”
Being near the Eucharist made Clarence intensely aware of the presence of God, he explains. “It’s all about the presence of God in the consecrated host. Otherwise, it’s just a building. If Jesus is not present, it’s a sham,” he says. But Jesus is present, he knows: “I experienced it that day and to this day. To this day, it is what sustains me.”
Read on to learn more — including how a conversation with a deacon helped guide him further along the road.
Eternal rest grant unto him, O Lord, and let perpetual light shine upon him …