Actor and Fresh Prince of Bel-Air star James Avery has passed away at the age of 68. Avery was still active in recent years and had just completed filming an appearance in Zach Braff’s upcoming film Wish I Was Here. Unfortunately, complications during an open-heart surgery on November 11th eventually led to the actor’s death.
Avery was most associated with his role as Uncle Phil, where he was often tasked with playing the authority figure while Will Smith and the four Banks kids repeatedly tested his patience. He added an extra dimension to what could have been a pretty stuffy sitcom dad role, playing the character as the tough but fair patriarch who always followed a stern wag of the finger with a reassuring hug.
Born in Virginia and raised in New Jersey, Avery spent four years in the Navy and did a tour of duty in Vietnam before training to be an actor at the University of California San Diego and in England.
Prior to his six seasons on The Fresh Prince of Bel Air, Avery worked on the stage while also establishing himself as a busy character actor with guest spots on popular 1980s television series like Hill Street Blues, Amen, and L.A. Law. Avery also worked extensively as a voice actor, playing Shredder in the long running Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles animated series and Rhodey in the Iron Man cartoon from the mid 1990s.
Following The Fresh Prince, Avery continued to work steadily in both TV and film, co-starring in the UPN series Sparks with Terrance Howard and Robin Givens before racking up an impressive list of guest spots on shows like NYPD Blue, Grey’s Anatomy, CSI, and multiple appearances on The Division and The Closer.
Naturally, these credits recall fixed moments of James Avery’s life. Moments that mean something to us because we can remember being entertained by him hurling Jazz out of the Banks family’s mansion on The Fresh Prince or as Shredder in The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, but it’s the words from those who knew the man and worked closest with him that paint a picture of who he was. Words like “teacher,” “protector,” and “second father” that were written on Twitter by Tatyana Ali and Alfonso Ribeiro, who played Avery’s children Ashley and Carlton on Fresh Prince.
As the days go by, other colleagues and friends will surely weigh in on this loss and on the impact that James Avery had. Our thoughts and prayers go out to them and to Avery’s wife, Barbara, his stepson, and his mother.
R.I.P. James Avery: November 27th, 1945 – December 31st, 2013.