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Tribute: James Avery of “The Fresh Prince of Bel Air”

posted by Nell Minow

We mourn the loss of actor James Avery, who starred with Will Smith as Uncle Phil in Fresh Prince of Bel Air.  Avery was a Vietnam veteran who became a writer, actor, and voice talent. He was a great foil for Will Smith on “Fresh Prince,” with a commanding presence that suited his role as a lawyer and later a judge.  While he was often the straight man, his comic timing was subtle and if you watch closely you can see how much Smith learned from him over the years.


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Avery also provided voices for animated characters as wide-ranging as The Shredder in “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles” and War Machine in “Iron Man.”  He hosted “Going Places,” a popular travel and adventure series on PBS.  He memorably played disabled characters, a legally-blind witness to a murder on CSI and a wheelchair-bound medical examiner on “The Closer.”

He died at age 68 from complications following open heart surgery.  His last film, aptly named “Valediction,” has been a festival favorite and I hope it will be available streaming or in theaters later this year.  May his memory be a blessing.

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