'Fresh Prince of Bel-Air' Star James Avery Dies

James Avery
James Avery
 Courtesy of Toni Benson

Fresh Prince of Bel-Air star James Avery has died from complications from open heart surgery in Glendale, his manager and publicist confirmed to The Hollywood Reporter. Avery was 68.

Alfonso Ribeiro, who played Avery's TV son on the sitcom, broke the news on New Year's Day on social media. "I'm deeply saddened to say that James Avery has passed away. He was a second father to me. I will miss him greatly," the actor wrote on Twitter. In a posting on Facebook, Ribeiro said, "The world has lost a truly special man."

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Born James La Rue Avery in Virginia, he was raised in Atlantic City, New Jersey, where he graduated from high school. Avery joined the U.S. Navy and served in Vietnam from 1968 to 1969; he then moved to San Diego after being discharged. He wrote poetry and TV scripts for PBS before attending the University of California, San Diego, on a scholarship, graduating with a Bachelors degree in drama and literature. In 1969, Avery received an honorary Doctor of Humane Letters from Virginia State University.

In more than 140 episodes, Avery portrayed patriarch Judge Philip Banks on Fresh Prince, which ran from 1990 to 1996 and also starred Will Smith. Avery also voiced Shredder in the 1987-93 Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and James Rhodes in the Iron Man animated series.

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The New Jersey-bred actor had stints on Grey's AnatomyThat '70s Show, The Division, The Closer, Harry's Law and Sherri. Earlier this year, Avery appeared in Lifetime's Call Me Crazy: A Five Film and two other telepics. He was working up until September, filming Zach Braff's Wish I Was Here.

Avery is survived by his wife Barbara, whom he had been married to for 26 years; his mother, Florence; and his step-son, Kevin Waters.

A memorial service is currently being planned.

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