He was best known for playing the part of a stern, sometimes uptight uncle on the long-running NBC sitcom “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air,” but James Avery was also a father figure to his fellow cast mates. Avery died on Dec. 31 in Glendale, Calif., from complications from open-heart surgery. He was 68.
Avid television viewers know Avery from his fatherly and sometimes ill-tempered character, Judge Phillip Banks (aka “Uncle Phil” and “Big Guy”). He starred on the “Fresh Prince” alongside actor Will Smith, who played the mischievous but good-hearted nephew Avery’s character took in to keep him away from the dangerous streets of Philadelphia.
Avery was born in 1945 in Pughsville, Va., and was raised in Atlantic City, N.J. Avery served one year in the U.S. Navy during the Vietnam War. Upon graduating high school, he moved to Southern California, where he began to write poetry and TV scripts.
His resume includes a list of several movie and television roles spanning over 30 years, including roles in “The Blues Brothers,” “Dr. Dolittle 2,” “227,” “L.A. Law” and “The Young and the Restless.”
He played the role of Phillip Banks on “The Fresh Prince,” which ran for six seasons from 1991 to 1996. Avery was also a voice actor and was famous for his role as the voice of Shredder in the animated television series “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” from 1987 to 1993.
His final film role was in the upcoming comedy drama “Wish I Was Here,” which will be coming out in September on the Sundance Channel, and his final television role was in the TV movie “Call Me Crazy: A Five Film.”
Using social media, several of Avery’s cast mates paid tribute to the late actor.
“Some of my greatest lessons in acting, living and being a respectable human being came through James Avery. Every young man needs an Uncle Phil. Rest in peace,” Smith said on Facebook.
“I’m deeply saddened to say that James Avery has passed away,” wrote Alfonso Ribeiro, who played Avery’s son on the sitcom, Carlton. “He was a second father to me. I will miss him greatly.”
Avery leaves behind his wife, Barbara; stepson, Kevin Waters; and his mother, Florence Avery.