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'Fresh Prince' actor James Avery dies, aged 68

Actor James Avery, seen at the Mann Village Theatre in Los Angeles, California, July 7, 2004
Actor James Avery, seen at the Mann Village Theatre in Los Angeles, California, July 7, 2004

US actor James Avery, most famous as Uncle Phil in hit 1990s sitcom "The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air," died on New Year's Eve aged 68, his publicist said.

With a deep baritone voice, Avery regularly played judges, professors or doctors in TV shows in the 1980s and 90s, as well as extensive voice work, including on animated projects.

His first big-screen role was an uncredited part in 1980s classic "The Blues Brothers," and he enjoyed a prolific TV and movie career stretching over three decades.

But the role most people will remember him for is as Philip Banks on the 1990s NBC series, who played a role model to the young Will Smith's character, a fictionalized rapper version of himself.

"I'm deeply saddened to say James Avery has passed away," his "Fresh Prince" co-star Alfonso Ribeiro tweeted. "He was a second father to me. I will miss him greatly."

Actor James Avery, pictured as he works in the kitchen during the Los Angeles Mission's Easter Meals for the Homeless, at the Los Angeles Mission, on April 14, 2006
Actor James Avery, pictured as he works in the kitchen during the Los Angeles Mission's Easter Meals for the Homeless, at the Los Angeles Mission, on April 14, 2006

Born James LaRue Avery in Virginia and raised in New Jersey, he had worked until September, shooting the film "Wish I Was Here" directed by Zach Braff, which will premiere at the Sundance Film Festival this month.

Avery died late Tuesday in hospital in Glendale, outside Los Angeles, "due to complications from open heart surgery," his publicist Cynthia Snyder told AFP in an email.

He is survived by his wife of 26 years, Barbara Avery, his mother Florence Avery, and his stepson Kevin Waters. Plans are being made for a memorial service, the spokeswoman said.

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