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'Fresh Prince' co-stars react to death of James Avery



Co-stars from The Fresh Prince of Bel Air reacted with shock and much love for James Avery, who played the lovable yet tough-as-nails Judge Phillip Banks — “Uncle Phil” — a father figure to Will Smith on the show.

"I was hoping to start the new year differently," Jada Pinkett Smith wrote on her Facebook page Wednesday, "but we have lost yet another friend, James Avery who we all lovingly know as Uncle Phil from The Fresh Prince has passed. Our condolences to aunt Florence (his mother), Miss Barbara (his wife) and all those who loved him. Rest in peace James."

Alfonso Ribeiro who played Uncle Phil's son Carlton Banks on the popular show.
wrote on his Facebook page on Wednesday: "The world has lost a truly special man. I am very saddened to say that James Avery has passed. Even though he played my father on TV, he was a wonderful father figure to me in life. He will be deeply missed."

Tatyana Ali, who played his daughter Ashley Banks on the show, wrote on Twitter: “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.”

In addition to The Fresh Prince of Bel Air, Avery appeared in a number of other popular shows including Grey's Anatomy, The Young and the Restless, Charmed and That '70s show among many others.

Avery died at a Glendale, Calif., hospital Tuesday night due to complications from open heart surgery, according to his manager. He was 65.

Over the course of a journeyman career in television and film that spanned more than three decades, Avery lent his stentorian speaking voice to several animated series, including 1987’s Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles (He was Shredder for you kids of the '80s!) and 1990’s Iron Man.

The Virginia-born, New Jersey-raised actor first appeared onscreen in an uncredited role in 1980s The Blues Brothers.

But it was his role as Judge Phillip Banks — “Uncle Phil” — on Fresh Prince that brought him his widest audience. Ranked No. 34 on TV Guide’s 50 Greatest TV Dads of All Time, the Navy veteran’s stern, straight-arrow character provided a foil for series star Will Smith. After rescuing Smith’s wise-cracking, street-wise Fresh Prince character from the mean streets of west Philadelphia, the bourgeois tranquility of Uncle Phil’s uptight Bel Air household set up the fish-out-of-water culture clash that powered Fresh Prince’s situational comedy from 1990 until Smith’s departure (for global movie stardom) in 1996.

FUN FACT: Benny Medina, best known for managing the career of Jennifer Lopez,  attended Beverly Hills High where he met Kerry Gordy, the song of Motown music legend Berry Gordy, Jr.  The antics  of Medina living with the Gordy family is the basis for the Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. Medina, a co-producer of the show, has said the an upper-crust black family of the show is based on the Gordy household.

Avery wrapped his final film, Wish I Was Here (directed by Zach Braff) in September. The movie is set to premiere at the Sundance Film Festival later this month.

Avery is survived by his wife of 26 years, Barbara Avery; his mother, Florence Avery; and his stepson, Kevin Waters.

[Last modified: Thursday, January 2, 2014 12:15pm]


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