By: Celia Carr- Assistant External News Editor
Beloved actor James Avery, most notable for his role in “Fresh Prince of Bel-Air,” passed away on Tuesday December, 31, at the age of 68.
Avery’s publicist, Cynthia Snyder, told The Associated Press that he passed away on Tuesday in Glendale, California after he was experiencing complications after having open heart surgery. He had the surgery on November 11.
He played a wealthy lawyer and judge, and family patriarch on the popular TV sitcom which launched Will Smith’s acting career as the trouble making nephew to Avery’s character. The comedy aired on NBC from 1990 to 1996 and was set in the Bank’s mansion, where Smith’s character was sent from his own neighbourhood in Philadelphia. It was here that fans of the show came to know Avery’s character, “Uncle Phil”.
Avery had a busy acting career both during and after his Fresh Prince job. He was often in demand for playing judges, professors and doctors. He is credited with his appearances on Grey’s Anatomy, NYPD Blue and Dallas. He has also been in many films such as Fletch, Nightflyers, and 8 Million Ways to Die. Additionally he was the voice on cartoons such as Shredder in the animated TV series Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Most recently, he appeared in Zach Braff’s film, “Wish I Was Here”, which will premiere at the Sundance Festival later in January.
Avery grew up in Atlantic City, N.J. where he was raised by his single mother, Florence Avery. He served in the Navy during Vietnam in the late 1960’s and upon his return to the states, he began a life in California where he studied drama and literature at the University of California in San Diego.
“I knew I loved the arts. I knew I wanted to be a writer, but the theatre was something I have been involved in before”, Avery said in an interview for the show “Unscripted”.
Alfonso Ribeiro, who plays Carlton Banks on the sitcom with Avery and Smith said that he remembers Avery most for his love and knowledge of jazz music. Another co-star, Joseph Marcell, who played the Banks’ family butler told CNN that Avery was “a marvellous man and a truly wonderful actor”. He also said that “he strove to present an Uncle Phil that everybody wishes was their uncle.”
Co-star Daphne Maxwell Reid remembers Avery fondly and said that “we all have great memories of Uncle Phil. He was everybody’s Uncle Phil, but I had the pleasure of being his other wife which was a delight. I treasured the man. He was a big part of who I am as a person. He taught me a lot. He shared a lot. He was an open, honest, wonderful man, and I really am going to miss him.”
Avery believed in the importance of the show because the “striving of the African-American ought to have been shown on television,” Marcel said and additionally that “what he has done for television, for African-Americans on television is unsurpassable.”
He is survived by his mother, Florence Avery, wife, Barbara and stepson Kevin Waters.