LOS ANGELES (Reuters) – James Avery, a classically trained actor best known for his role as the wealthy uncle of the young rapper Will Smith in the 1990s television comedy “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air,” has died at age 65.
Avery’s death was confirmed to CNN by his publicist, and more widely in a Twitter message on Wednesday by one of the actor’s TV co-stars, Alfonso Ribeiro, who played his son, Carlton, on “Fresh Prince.”
“I’m deeply saddened to say that James Avery has passed away. He was a second father to me. I will miss him greatly,” Ribeiro said in a tweet.
According to the celebrity website TMZ, Avery died on Tuesday, New Year’s Eve, from complications he suffered after recent open-heart surgery.
Avery’s voice was heard in many animated TV series, including “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” and “Iron Man,” and he guest-starred on “That ’70s Show” as a police officer.
But the Atlantic City, New Jersey native gained fame on television playing family patriarch Uncle Philip Banks on “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air,” which starred Will Smith as a young rap artist from a tough Philadelphia neighborhood who ends up living with well-heeled relatives in the affluent Bel-Air section of Los Angeles.
The sitcom, which ran on NBC for six years, was built largely around the clash of cultures between the refined lifestyle of Banks and his household and the brash, freewheeling attitudes of his nephew.
The show, a launching pad for Smith’s own acting career, ended with a series finale in which Uncle Philip puts his mansion up for sale and it is bought by George and Louise Jefferson – actors Sherman Hemsley and Isabel Sanford – of “The Jeffersons.”
More recently, Avery had a recurring role as a deputy medical examiner on the cable drama series “The Closer.” His last screen credit, according to the Internet Movie Database website was the 2013 TV comedy movie “Go, Bolivia, Go!”
(Reporting by Steve Gorman; Editing by Barbara Goldberg and Steve Orlofsky)