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James Avery of 'Fresh Prince' fame dead at 68

January 2nd, 2014 9:45 am by Staff Report

James Avery of 'Fresh Prince' fame dead at 68

This photo provided by NBC shows, from left, James Avery as Philip Banks, Will Smith as William "Will" Smith, and Janet Hubert as Vivian Banks. (AP Photo/NBC, Ron Tom)

NEW YORK (AP) — James Avery, the bulky character actor who
laid down the law at home and on the job as the Honorable Philip Banks
in "The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air," has died.

Avery's publicist,
Cynthia Snyder, told The Associated Press that Avery died Tuesday in
Glendale, Calif., following complications from open heart surgery. He
was 68, Snyder said.

Avery, who stood more than 6 feet tall,
played the family patriarch and a wealthy attorney and judge on the
popular TV comedy that launched the acting career of Will Smith as
Banks' troublemaking nephew.

The sitcom, which aired on NBC from
1990 to 1996, was set in the Banks' mansion, where Smith's character was
sent from Philadelphia when things got tough in his own neighborhood.
Fans came to know the imposing Banks as "Uncle Phil."

Avery liked
to say that the way to be an actor was to act, and he had a busy and
diverse career before, during and after "Fresh Prince." His TV credits
included "Grey's Anatomy," ''NYPD Blue" and "Dallas," and among his many
films were "Fletch," ''Nightflyers" and "8 Million Ways to Die." His
voice alone brought him many jobs, notably as Shredder in the animated
TV series "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles."

According to Snyder, he
will be seen in the film "Wish I Was Here," directed by Zach Braff and
scheduled to premiere later this month at the Sundance festival.

grew up in Atlantic City, N.J., and served in the Navy in Vietnam in
the late 1960s. After returning to the states, he settled in California
and studied drama and literature at the University of California at San

He is survived by his wife, Barbara, and stepson Kevin Waters.

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