By Jueseppi B.
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 Banks, Will 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 City, New 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 Diego, California 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.
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.
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.
CNN’s Todd Leopold contributed to this story.
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.