Celebrity Then And Now
Posted by Ryan Neal
Celebrity Then And Now
Publication: RidiculouslyExtraordinary. Posted by Ryan Neal
The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air
Currently Known For:
1980 - 2013
November 27, 1945
The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air
There are certain television characters that, even though you know they’re fictional, can feel like they’re a part of your family. For the early 1990s, James Avery was America’s uncle as he played the stern but loving Uncle Phil on the “Fresh Prince of Bel-Air”. Also a fine voice actor outside of the series, Avery was incredibly talented and beloved by everyone that had worked with him through the years. In recent years, Avery passed away, but will always have the legacy of playing one of television’s most beloved characters.Advertisements:
Avery was born in a small community in Virginia that eventually became part of Suffolk on November 27, 1945. That was just after the time that the United States’ involvement in World War II had come to an end, but Avery ended up in a war himself. He joined the United States Navy after finishing high school in Atlantic City, New Jersey and was sent to Vietnam as a result.
Once Avery returned to the United States, he settled down in Southern California where he focused on the arts. He attended the University of California, San Diego where he started writing, earning his degree in that field, as well as drama. His first jobs came from writing for public television, not getting into acting quite yet. After some training, Avery started his acting career while in his mid 30s.
Avery made his acting debut in 1980 with two very minor uncredited roles in the movies “The Stunt Man” and “The Blues Brothers”. His television career started in 1983 with a slew of acting roles that included the TV movie “Antony and Cleopatra”, as well as episodes of popular shows such as “The Jeffersons”, “Simon & Simon” and “Newhart”.
Many more guest roles for Avery continued throughout the mid 1980s. He had been on many of the most popular shows of the era, including “The A-Team”, “Moonlighting” and “St. Elsewhere”. It was around this time that he started doing a lot of voicework for animated series, which toward the end of the decade included “The Real Ghostbusters” and as the iconic voice of the villain Shredder on “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles”.
The 1980s also included several more films for Avery’s career. He had made appearances in “Fletch”, “License to Drive” and “The Ladies Club” just to name a few. After having a recurring role on “L.A. Law”, Avery would have the most notable role of his career. In 1990, Avery was cast as Philip Banks, Will Smith’s character’s Uncle Phil on the hit series “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air”.
To say that the show was a success would be an understatement as it became perhaps the most beloved series of the decade. “The Fresh Prince” ran for six seasons, with Avery appearing as the upper class father figure for all 148 episodes. Fans of the show might be surprised to find out that he wasn’t actually nominated for any major awards for that role, but it’s still very memorable.
Outside of “The Fresh Prince” there were several other roles on TV for Avery, especially as he continued his voice acting. He appeared in animated shows for superheroes like “Iron Man” and “Spider-Man”, and landed another main role as a live actor just after “The Fresh Prince” ended in 1996. This time around, he played Alonzo on the UPN sitcom “Sparks” that spanned over three years.
Dozens and dozens of additional guest roles continued into the new millennium, and he had memorable film performances with movies including “Dr. Dolittle 2”, “Who’s Your Caddy?” and had his final film role in 2014’s “Wish I Was Here”. On television, his final roles came mainly from TV movies, with his final work being as a voice actor on a 2015 episode of “Da Jammies”. All in all, Avery had an amazing career in which he was part of nearly 180 total films and television shows, seemingly only going minutes without work instead of days or months or even years like some actors do.
In November 2013, Avery was scheduled to undergo an open heart surgery in Glendale, California after he had suffered through coronary heart disease, as well as type 2 diabetes and end stage kidney disease. It was essentially a last ditch effort to extend Avery’s life, but unfortunately it didn’t do so by much.
Avery remained in the hospital following surgery for his final days, passing away just hours before the new year on December 31, 2013 at 68 years old. There was a lot of outpouring of grief from fans, especially those that saw his work on “Fresh Prince”. He was a father figure not only on television, but to many of those that watched the show.
Those that had worked with him, especially those on the famous series, had felt the most grief. Joseph Marcell (who played Geoffrey) said that Avery was “a marvelous man and a truly wonderful actor,” adding that “He strove to present an Uncle Phil that everybody wishes was their uncle...What he has done for television, for African-Americans on television is unsurpassable.”
Alfonso Ribeiro of course played his son Carlton on the series, and he said that Avery “was a second father to me. I will miss him greatly,” adding that “The world has lost a truly special man.” Many were waiting to hear Will Smith’s reaction, and a couple of days later he broke his silence. “Some of my greatest lessons in acting, living and being a respectable human being came through James Avery,” he said. “Every young man needs an Uncle Phil. Rest in Peace.”