James La Rue Avery, Sr, Star Of ‘The Fresh Prince Of Bel-Air,’ Dies At Age 68


 

By Jueseppi B.

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James La Rue Avery, Sr. (November 27, 1948 – December 31, 2013) was an American actor, best known for his portrayal of the patriarch and attorney (later judge) Philip BanksWill Smith‘s character’s uncle, in the TV show The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. This character was ranked #34 in TV Guide‘s “50 Greatest TV Dads of All Time.” He also provided the voice of Shredder in the original Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles television series, as well as War Machine in the animated series Iron Man and Junkyard Dog in Hulk Hogan’s Rock ‘n’ Wrestling. He also played Michael Kelso‘s commanding officer at the police academy late in the series run of the popular sitcom That ’70s Show.

 

Life and career

Avery was born in Virginia and raised in Atlantic CityNew Jersey. He served in the Vietnam War as a member of the U.S. Navy from 1968–1969, after graduating high school. Later on, he moved to San DiegoCalifornia where he began to write poetry and TV scripts. In addition to his fame insitcoms, he did voice acting for many animated series, most notably the 1987 Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles series (as the voice of The Shredder) and James Rhodes in the 1990s Iron Man series. He also performed in the single season production of Captain Simian and the Space Monkeys as “Gor-illa” a loveable, simple, and bi-polar gorilla.

 

He has been the primary host of Going Places, a popular travel and adventure series on PBS. He also guest starred in That ’70s Show as Officer Kennedy. In 2000, he guest starred in the “Unfriendly Skies” episode of CSI as Preston Cash, a legally-blind witness to a murder who assists the CSI team with a near-flawless verbal account of what he heard on board the flight. Avery played a Los Angeles County Medical Examiner, Dr. Crippen (who has recently appeared in a wheelchair), on the TNT series The Closer. In 2004, he guest starred on the television series That’s So Raven where he played an entrepreneur.

 

He also appeared in a 2005 episode of My Wife and Kids as Jay’s reluctant professor. He was cast in the new sitcom Sherri, starring Sherri Shepherd, playing her father.

 

Most recently, Avery wrapped production on Valediction, which could begin its film festival circuit as early as October 2011. He played the role of Edward, the husband of co-star Bonnie Bartlett. In addition, he starred in a 2012 role on the TV series Grey’s Anatomy, playing a distraught spouse to his brain-dead partner who was a patient.

 

Death

On December 31, 2013, Avery died from complications following open heart surgery in a Los Angeles hospital.

 

(CNN) — Actor James Avery, who played the beloved Uncle Phil on the hit 1990s sitcom “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air,” died Tuesday, his publicist confirmed. He was 68.

 

The cause of death was complications from open-heart surgery, said his manager, Toni Benson.

 

His “Fresh Prince” co-star Alfonso Ribeiro tweeted news of Avery’s passing.

 

“I’m deeply saddened to say that James Avery has passed away,” Riberio tweeted. “He was a second father to me. I will miss him greatly.

 

A classically trained actor and poet, Avery grew up in Atlantic City, New Jersey, where he was raised by a single mother. He served in the Navy during the Vietnam War and first appeared onscreen as a dancer in an uncredited role in the 1980 film “The Blues Brothers.”

 

According to IMDb, after he served in the military, Avery moved to San Diego, California, where he began writing TV scripts and poetry for PBS. Before joining the military, he once said, he had dreams of being like Richard Wright and living in Paris. But life took a different turn.

 

“I knew I loved the arts,” Avery said in an interview for the show “Unscripted.” “I knew I wanted to be a writer, but the theater was something I had been involved in before.”

 

Avery appeared in multiple TV shows and movies, including “CSI,” “That ’70s Show,” “The Closer” and several appearances as a judge on “L.A. Law.”

 

Indeed, with his deep, mellifluous voice, he frequently played judges, professors and doctors — Uncle Phil began as a lawyer and eventually became a judge — and was much in demand as a voice actor. His voice roles included Shredder in the “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” series and James “Rhodey” Rhodes in the 1990s animated series version of “Iron Man.”

 

He most recently appeared in Zach Braff’s new film, “Wish I Was Here,” which will premiere at the Sundance Film Festival later this month.

 

But his most famous role was as Phillip Banks, the stern but loving uncle to Will Smith’s character on “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air.” The show, co-executive produced by Quincy Jones and created by Andy Borowitz and Susan Borowitz, cast Smith — then best known as a rapper — as a Philadelphia teenager who is sent to live with his wealthy Los Angeles relatives. As Banks, a former civil-rights activist and Harvard Law-trained attorney, Avery provided a role model for Smith’s sometimes wild character.

 

Avery, too, leveled with youthful audiences, noting in “Unscripted” that he left home at 18 because “I had too good a time.”

 

In a 2007 interview with the New York Film Academy, he was forthright about his abilities.

 

“You can either be a movie star or an actor. I’m an actor,” he said. “(But) I’ve done pretty good.”

 

He is survived by his wife of 26 years, Barbara Avery, his mother, Florence Avery of Atlantic City, and a stepson, Kevin Waters.

 

People we lost in 2013

 

CNN’s Todd Leopold contributed to this story.

 

James-avery

 

 

Uncle Phil loses it

 

Uploaded on Sep 26, 2007

Uncle Phil goes psycho on Geoffrey after another sly insult from the butler.

 

 

 

Unscripted: James Avery

 

Uploaded on Jan 14, 2010

Best known as Will Smith’s “Uncle Phil” on the hit series The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, the imposing James Avery is a classically trained actor who has written TV scripts and poetry, and earned an Emmy Award for production while working for PBS. Born and raised in Atlantic City, New Jersey, he served in Vietnam with the U.S. Navy. Avery made his first screen appearance in 1980 with an uncredited part in The Blues Brothers, and in the three decades since then has amassed a long list of film and TV credits that includes Hill Street Blues, L.A. Law, C.S.I. and The Closer.

 

 

 

James Avery, who played the character of Phil Banks on the hit sitcom ‘Fresh Prince of Bel Air,’ died at the age of 68 on Dec. 31.

James Avery, who played the character of Phil Banks on the hit sitcom ‘Fresh Prince of Bel Air,’ died at the age of 68 on Dec. 31.

16 Responses

  1. He was such a talented character actor, wonderful straight man as well. So young. I hope his family and loved ones find peace. So sad.

    Thank you for this wonderful synopsis of his life and work. As always you do such great work.

    • Hello Ms. Valentine. Hope you are home, safe & warm. Tell me how the holidays went for you? You vanished so I am hoping you spent time with family & good friends.

  2. […] James La Rue Avery, Sr, Star Of ‘The Fresh Prince Of Bel-Air,’ Dies At Age 68 […]

  3. This guy was the perfect straight man. He was so good at it, that like Dean Martin, he stole practically every scene from some very talented performers. His reactions were often funnier than the punch line. Which is saying something when one of those performers is Will Smith.

    • I am feeling old and so sad, all the TV characters I grew up with are going quickly. From Andy Griffith to James Avery. Happy New 2014 Mr. Publius.

      • I hear you, man. What was it Chris Rock said? Something like you know you are old when your stories are all about people who are dead?

        Look to the younger generation for inspiration. These kids coming up have a lot more on the ball than many of us old war horses think.

  4. This made me sad. James was a spokesperson for Parents Anonymous for a while. He met with several of us in California. God rest his soul.

  5. So sad. RIP Uncle Phil.

  6. One of my all time fave shows was ‘Fresh Prince’..Youngest and I watched re-run after re-run after re-run! Good stuff never gets old; only better with time..R.I.P. Mr. James Avery, Sr..

    • Every single TV character I grew up with is dying, from Andy Griffith to James Avery….I feel very old.

      • There is a bit of good news on the horizon..Guess what? I think you’re not but a couple years older than me, right? Andddd I am NOT getting old, only older and ripe..Finally no longer half baked; but just right..Oh, 50 is the perfect age..So? As long as you’re so close to my age; you will never get OLD either..Only well seasoned/well experienced/and well enlightened. I walk past mirrors sometimes and have to remind myself I am 50 now..I don’t feel like I’m 50 most of the time..no major difference in bodily functions or anything , yet.

      • U R something else….little girl.

      • We live in an American society in which those that have aged/matured/lived/experienced/grown wise from experience & surviving are made to feel OLD and not appreciated nor widely respected..Backinthedays that was not the case and it is a bassackwards way of looking at things and being..It is no small wonder the youth these days overall are so lost & bewildered..I could go on and on about this topic(see what you started???) but I will save it for another time..Age is more than just a number..It is natural. It is to be relished and cherished for the alternate option is six foot under…I am not getting old; I am evolving! I am going to have to write on this soon to release this…

      • Uh Huh….I can’t wait to read this one when you post it.

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