James Avery, who played Uncle Phil in ‘Fresh Prince of Bel-Air,’ dead at 68

TORONTO — Actor James Avery, best known for playing Uncle Phil on the Will Smith sitcom Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, died Tuesday. He was 68.

“I’m deeply saddened to say that James Avery has passed away,” read a Twitter message from Alfonso Ribeiro, who played his son, Carlton. “He was a second father to me. I will miss him greatly.”

The sad news was confirmed Wednesday by Avery’s publicist, Cynthia Snyder (who said he was born in 1945, not 1948 as widely reported).

Avery died in a California hospital, where he was reportedly recovering from heart surgery.

“I was hoping to start the new year differently but we have lost yet another friend,” wrote Jada Pinkett Smith, whose husband played Avery’s nephew on Fresh Prince, on Facebook. “Our condolences to aunt Florence (his mother), Miss Barbara (his wife) and all those who loved him. Rest in peace James.”

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Fresh Prince of Bel-Air ran for six season beginning in 1990 and continues to run in syndication.

“James was my teacher my protector & the most magnificent actor,” tweeted Tatyana Ali, who played his daughter. “We’re feeling his loss very deeply. He’ll always be apart of me.”

DJ Jazzy Jeff, a frequent guest on Fresh Prince, tweeted: “RIP James Avery…Thank U for the talks,travel tips and the jazz cd’s. A great Friend and Even Better Person…You will be Missed!!”

Born in Virginia and raised in New Jersey, Avery served with the U.S. Navy in Vietnam before settling in California.

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In addition to voice-over work — he was the voice of Shredder on Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles — he appeared in dozens of mostly forgettable movies and had guest roles in a string of TV shows including  The Jeffersons, St. Elsewhere and The A-Team.

After Fresh Prince, Avery played a lawyer for two seasons on the sitcom Sparks.

“One of the best actors of our time,” recalled Sparks co-star Miguel A. Nunez Jr., via Twitter.

Actress Tia Mowry tweeted: “RIP James Avery. You will always be America’s favourite television dad.”

In recent years, he showed up on episodes of series like The Closer, Grey’s Anatomy and The Young & the Restless.

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

Only weeks ago, Fresh Prince producer Jeff Pollack was found dead on a jogging path in California. He was 54.

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