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James Avery, who played the beloved Uncle Phil to Will Smith’s character on The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air in the 1990s, died Tuesday at the age of 65.

His co-star Alfonso Ribeiro tweeted news of Avery’s passing.

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

Avery’s publicist confirmed the actor’s death.

Avery recently had open heart surgery, and died from complications from the procedure. Wife Barbara was by his side before leaving for a moment to get food.

Upon her return, he had passed away.

A classically trained actor and poet, Avery grew up in Atlantic City, N.J., where he was raised by a single mother, according to CNN and IMDB.

He served in the Navy during the Vietnam War and first appeared on screen as a dancer in an uncredited role in the 1980 classic The Blues Brothers.


After he completed his military service, James moved west to San Diego, Calif., where he began writing television scripts and poetry for PBS.

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

A successful character and voice actor, Avery appeared in multiple TV shows and films including as the voice of Shredder in the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.

His most famous role, of course, was that of Phillip Banks.

The stern but loving uncle to the iconic title character on The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, he made for a classic foil for Smith and Riberio for six seasons.


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