A veteran television and film actor whose character on a popular sitcom was named to TV Guide’s list of the "50 Greatest TV Dads of All Time" has died. Deadline.com reports that James Avery, who played family patriarch Philip Banks in “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air,” died Dec. 31 of complications from open heart surgery. He was 68.
Avery, a classically trained actor, had just finished filming a part in “Wish I Was Here,” an independent movie from Zach Braff that was funded via Kickstarter, the story reports. The movie is set to debut later in January at Sundance.
Avery’s show business career started with his writing poetry and TV scripts for PBS, but he segued into acting with an uncredited role in the 1980 film “The Blues Brothers,” the story notes. After that, he appeared in TV shows including “The Jeffersons” and “Grey’s Anatomy.” He also provided the voice of Shredder on the 1980s and 1990s animated show “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.”
“But it was his role as Uncle Phil on ‘Fresh Prince’ that put him on the map. The series ran from 1990-1996 and launched the acting career of Will Smith,” the story notes. The character was ranked at No. 34 on the TV Guide list of the "50 Greatest TV Dads of All Time," which came out in 2011. (Click here to see the full list.)
Avery’s death comes less than a week after “Fresh Prince” co-creator Jeffrey Pollack died at 54, as we reported previously.