James Avery, an actor best known for playing Uncle Phil on popular sitcom “Fresh Prince of Bel-Air,” has died this past Tuesday, Dec. 31. He was 68-years-old.
According to CNN News, Avery passed away due to complications from an open heart surgery. He underwent the procedure on Nov. 11, 2013 and died at a hospital in Glendale, Cali.
Raised by a single mother, he grew up in Atlantic City, NJ and was classically trained as a poet and an actor. During the Vietnam War, Avery served in the U.S. Navy and first appeared onscreen as an extra in the 1980 film “The Blues Brothers.” After being active in the military he moved to San Diego, Cali. to pursue a career at PBS writing TV scripts and poetry.
Avery appeared in many movies and TV shows throughout the course of his life. Some included “CSI,” “The Closer,” “That 70’s Show,” as well as multiple appearances as a judge on “L.A. Law.” His deep voice also helped him become in high demand for voice acting roles in cartoons. Some voice roles included James “Rhodey” Rhodes in the 1990s animated role series of “Iron Man.” He also was Shredder in the “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” series.
His most famous role of course was on “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air,” that aired for six years from 1990-1996. Avery played a lawyer turned judge, Philip Banks, the stern but caring uncle of Will Smith’s character on the show. According to his publicist, his goal throughout the sitcom was to show “the striving of the African-American” and that “it out to be shown through television.”
According to CNN, during a 2007 interview with the New York Film Academy, he stated, “You can either be a movie star or an actor. I’m an actor. (But) I’ve done pretty good.”
Everybody with whom he worked with send their condolences to his family. Co-star to Avery on “Fresh Prince” Joseph Marcell, who played the Bank’s butler Geoffrey, says that he was “a marvelous man and a truly wonderful actor.”
He is survived by his wife of 26 years, Barbara Avery; a stepson, Kevin Walters; and his mother, Florence Avery.