James Avery, Uncle Phil on 'Fresh Prince of Bel-Air,' dies at 68

January 1, 2014 2:14:16 PM PST
Actor James Avery, best known for his role as Uncle Phil on the '90's sitcom, ''The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air,'' has died.

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Avery's publicist confirms the actor passed away Tuesday night in Glendale, Calif. He was 68 years old.

Avery's publicist said the actor recently suffered complications from open-heart surgery.

Avery's "Fresh Prince" costar Alfonso Ribeiro spoke out about Avery's passing on Twitter, saying, "He was a second father to me. I will miss him greatly."

Avery last appeared in feature films in 2010, including "The Grind." He made cameos in several TV shows in the ensuing years, including "Grey's Anatomy."

The "Fresh Prince" sitcom aired for six seasons from 1990-1996 and starred rapper/actor Will Smith.

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 Simth's acting career.

The sitcom, which aired on NBC, was set in the Banks' mansion, to which Smith's character was sent from Philadelphia when things got tough in his own neighborhood.

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 also included ''NYPD Blue" and "Dallas," and among his many films: "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.

Avery 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 Diego.

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

The Associated Press contributed to this report.