James Avery, best known for playing Will Smith’s no-nonsense rich uncle on The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, the actor’s manager confirmed Wednesday. He was 65.
“I’m deeply saddened to say that James Avery has passed away,” Alfonso Ribeiro, who played preppy son Carlton on the 1990s-era hit, tweeted this morning. “He was a second father to me. I will miss him greatly.”
Per his manager, Avery died Tuesday night at a Los Angeles hospital due to complications from open-heart surgery. He never stopped working, most recently shooting Zach Braff’s indie film Wish I Was Here up until September.
Avery amassed dozens of TV and film roles over the years, including appearances on The Closer, That ’70s Show and Grey’s Anatomy, the imposing actor’s most memorably role will always be that of lawyer (and ultimately Judge) Philip Banks, married father of three (and later four) who does his sister-in-law a favor by letting her son Will come and stay with them in Bel-Air to escape trouble in urban Philadelphia.
Cue the hilarity, which lasted for six seasons and put Smith on the road to mega-stardom.
Avery, who was born in Virginia and raised in Atlantic City, N.J., also lent that booming voice of his to a number of animated shows and films over the years, including TV’s Teenage Mutanta Ninja Turtles (he was The Shredder!), the 1990s-era Iron Man series and DreamWork’s The Prince of Egypt. His many live-action film credits include The Brady Bunch Movie and Dr. Dolittle 2.
He is survived by his wife of 26 years, Barbara Avery; step-son Kevin Waters; and his mother, Florence Avery.
“James was my teacher my protector & the most magnificent actor. We’re feeling his loss very deeply. He’ll always be a part of me #JamesAvery,” Tatyana Ali, who played daughter Ashley on Fresh Prince, also tweeted today.