Celebs

James Avery, 'Fresh Prince of Bel-Air' star, dies at 68

Jan. 1, 2014 at 3:07 PM ET

James Avery, the actor best known for playing Uncle Phil on the '90s sitcom "Fresh Prince of Bel-Air," has died at the age of 68, his publicist confirmed to TODAY.

Avery passed away Tuesday night in Glendale, Calif., due to complications from open heart surgery.

Avery was mourned Wednesday by co-star Alfonso Ribeiro, who played Carlton on the hit show.

"The world has lost a truly special man," Ribeiro wrote on Facebook. 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."

Avery was born Nov. 27, 1945, in Virginia. His age was being widely reported as 65 as news of his death spread on Wednesday, but publicist Cynthia Snyder told TODAY that she was reading the correct date of birth from the actor's driver's license.

Avery was raised in Atlantic City, N.J., and after graduating from high school he joined the Navy and served in Vietnam from 1968 to 1969. 

He then settled in San Diego and wrote poetry and television scripts for PBS, his publicist said. He won a scholarship to the University of California at San Diego, where he obtained his Bachelor of Arts degree in Drama and Literature. In 1969, he received an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters from Virginia State University.

Avery had dozens of TV and film roles over the years, according to E! Online. He had appearances on "The Closer," "That '70s Show" and "Grey's Anatomy." As Philip Banks on "Fresh Prince," he was a married father of three who does his sister-in-law a favor by letting her son Will come and stay with them in Bel-Air to escape trouble in urban Philadelphia.

He also lent his voice to animated shows and films over the years.

According to his publicst, Avery worked until September of this year shooting the film “Wish I Was Here,” directed by Zach Braff. The film will premiere at Sundance.

Avery is survived by his wife of 26 years, Barbara Avery, his mother, Florence Avery of Atlantic City, and his stepson, Kevin Waters.

Plans are being made for a memorial service.

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