Actor James Avery, who grew to fame as playing stern but beloved father figure Philip “Uncle Phil” Banks to Will Smith’s character Will “The Fresh Prince” Smith on The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, has died from complications of open heart surgery in Glendale, California.
Avery, age 68, passed away Tuesday evening, stated his manager, Toni Benson.
The actor had most recently been at work back in September. He had a role in Zach Braff’s new movie entitled Wish I Was Here. Filming was finished in the fall and the movie is now scheduled to debut at the 2014 Sundance International Film Festival which will be held later this month.
James Avery was best known to audiences for the portrayal of Uncle Phil on the 1990’s NBC comedy with Smith. Alfonso Ribeiro, who was the first person to publically confirm Avery’s death via his Twitter account on Wednesday morning, also starred on the show as Phil’s son, Carlton.
The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air cast Will Smith as a teenager from Philadelphia who is sent to Los Angeles to live with his wealthy relatives. As the character of Philip Banks, who was a former civil-rights activist and Harvard trained attorney, Avery was a role model for Smith’s character as well as the others on the show such as Alfonso Ribeiro.
Ribeiro stated in his tweet that he was deeply saddened about Avery’s death. He stated that the older actor was like a second father to him and that he would miss him greatly.
However, he also served in the military and once he got out, he went to San Diego, California. There he starting writing television scripts for PBS. Before he was in the service, he had once stated that he dreamed of being like Richard Wright and moving to Paris to live. Life gave him a different road.
Besides staring with Smith, he also was the voice behind the villainous Shredder, who was in the cartoon series Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles that from 1987 to 1993. Avery continued to work steadily both in film and also television after the comedy series’ stopped running in 1996. He had various guest appearances in Grey’s Anatomy, CSI, That ’70s Show, The Closer and had made numerous appearances as a judge on L.A. Law. His most recent television appearance was on the soap opera The Young and the Restless in 2012.
He was diagnosed with Type 2 diabetes in the year 2000 and this slowed his acting career quite a bit. He also suffered from kidney disease as had problems with his left foot that made it necessary for Avery to often have to use either a cane or a wheelchair.
The actor told a Philadelphia news station back in 2010 that Type 2 diabetes was a horrible disease. He stated that it ate a person up piece by piece.
James Avery is survived by his wife, Barbara Avery, to whom he was married 26 years, his mother, Florence Avery, who lives in Atlantic City and one step-son Kevin Waters.
Actor James Avery is dead at age 68.
By Kimberly Ruble