James Avery, Will’s uncle on ‘The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air’ dies at 65

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(CNN) — Actor James Avery, who played the beloved Uncle Phil on the hit 1990s sitcom “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air,” died Tuesday, his publicist confirmed. He was 65.

Alfonso Ribeiro, who played Carlton on “Fresh Prince of Bel Air,” confirmed the news on his official Facebook page and on Twitter.

Ribeiro wrote: “The world has lost a truly special man. I am very saddened to say that James Avery has passed. Even though he played my father on TV, he was a wonderful father figure to me in life. He will be deeply missed.”

“I’m deeply saddened to say that James Avery has passed away,” Riberio tweeted. “He was a second father to me. I will miss him greatly.” 

A classically trained actor and poet, Avery grew up in Atlantic City, New Jersey, where he was raised by a single mother. He served in the Navy during the Vietnam War and first appeared onscreen as a dancer in an uncredited role in the 1980 film “The Blues Brothers.”

According to IMDb, after he served in the military, Avery moved to San Diego, California, where he began writing TV scripts and poetry for PBS.

“I knew I loved the arts,” Avery said in an interview for the show “Unscripted.” “I knew I wanted to be a writer, but the theater was something I had been involved in before.”

Avery appeared in multiple TV shows and movies including as the voice of Shredder in the “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.” But his most famous role was as Phillip Banks, the stern but loving uncle to Will Smith’s character on “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air.”

According to a TMZ report, Avery had recently undergone surgery for an undisclosed illness and took a turn for the worse late yesterday. CNN is reporting he died from complications after open heart surgery.

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