James Avery, best known for playing Will Smith’s loveable, yet stern Uncle Phil on “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air,” has died.
The 68-year-old actor, according to CNN, died in a Glendale, California, hospital Tuesday night following complications from open heart surgery, according to his rep. The surgery took place in November.
Avery grew up in Atlantic City, New Jersey. Before acting, he served in the Navy during the Vietnam War. One of his early acting roles was in the 1980 film “The Blues Brothers.” While he is best known as Will’s uncle on “Fresh Prince,” he also is known for roles in “CSI,” “That ’70s Show,” “The Closer,” “L.A. Law” and as the voice of Shredder from Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. He is survived by his wife Barbara Avery, as well as his mother Florence Avery and stepson Kevin Waters.
Many of his “Fresh Prince” co-stars have reacted, but the show’s leading man, Smith, has yet to comment. Tatyana Ali remembered the actor on Twitter: “James was my teacher my protector & the most magnificent actor,” she wrote. “We’re feeling his loss very deeply. He’ll always be apart of me #JamesAvery”
James was my teacher my protector & the most magnificent actor. We're feeling his loss very deeply. He'll always be apart of me #JamesAvery
— Tatyana Ali (@TatyanaAli) January 1, 2014
Alfonso Ribeiro, who famously played his son, Carlton, wrote, “I’m deeply saddened to say that James Avery has passed away. He was a second father to me. I will miss him greatly.”
I'm deeply saddened to say that James Avery has passed away. He was a second father to me. I will miss him greatly. pic.twitter.com/UrW0EeBFbO
— Alfonso Ribeiro (@alfonso_ribeiro) January 1, 2014
Throughout the series, Uncle Phil would frequently throw out Will’s bestie, played by DJ Jazzy Jeff. He too remembered his former co-star. He wrote, “RIP James Avery…Thank U for the talks,travel tips and the jazz cd’s. A great Friend and Even Better Person…You will be Missed!! #FPOB”
RIP James Avery…Thank U for the talks,travel tips and the jazz cd's. A great Friend and Even Better Person…You will be Missed!! #FPOB
— Mr Vinyl Destination (@djjazzyjeff215) January 1, 2014
Supermodel Tyra Banks, who also had a recurring role on the series, noted, “Sending condolences to the family of James Avery, ’Uncle Phil’ of the Fresh Prince. I’ll always remember how warm he was to me on set.”
Sending condolences to the family of James Avery, "Uncle Phil" of the Fresh Prince. I'll always remember how warm he was to me on set.
— Tyra Banks (@tyrabanks) January 2, 2014
Smith’s wife, and fellow “Fresh Prince” star, Jada Pinkett Smith, took to Facebook to share her memories of the actor. “Happy New Year everyone! I was hoping to start the new year differently but we have lost yet another friend. James Avery who we all lovingly know as Uncle Phil from The Fresh Prince has passed,” she wrote. “Our condolences to aunt Florence (his mother), Miss Barbara (his wife) and all those who loved him. Rest in peace James.”
Avery is slated to appear in Zach Braff’s next film, “Wish I Was Here,” which will premiere at the Sundance Film Festival later this month. The actor and director recalled working with him on the film on Twitter. “James Avery was a very funny and smart man. He did a cameo as a favor to me in WIWH and had the entire set rolling with laughter. RIP,” he wrote.
James Avery was a very funny and smart man. He did a cameo as a favor to me in WIWH and had the entire set rolling with laughter. RIP.
— Zach Braff (@zachbraff) January 1, 2014