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Death of an American icon, last day of 2013 (Editorial)

James LaRue Avery, age 68, died Dec. 31, and American television viewers lost an icon. We knew him as Uncle Phil. He was father to Carlton (Alfonso Ribeiro), Hilary (Karyn Parsons), Ashley (Tatyana Ali), and Nicky (Ross Bagley). He was Vivian's (Janet Hubert/Daphne Reid) husband, a successful and affluent attorney, then judge, and the patriarch of the Banks household. Most of all, he was Will's (Will Smith) — The Fresh Prince — Uncle Phil. After Bill Cosby, James Avery in the role of Philip Banks, was America's favorite on-screen dad, post-Ward Cleaver and Ozzie Nelson. America was given a glimpse of the African American family and found it not unlike their own families or the family they would love to have.

James Avery and Sherman Hemsley on The Fresh Prince of BelAir, circa 1990
NBC Universal/Getty Images

Most in the African American community were gratified to see the rest of the country were finally getting to know the black dad and family they had long known. Actors like Avery through Philip Banks accomplished that most necessary task.

Jada Pinkett Smith — accomplished actress in her own rights, star in title role of Hawthorne, and wife of Will Smith — shared the following post with her Facebook friends on New Years Day:

Jada Pinkett Smith's status.
January 1
Happy New Year everyone! I was hoping to start the new year differently but we have lost yet another friend. James Avery who we all lovingly know as Uncle Phil from The Fresh Prince has passed.

Our condolences to aunt Florence (his mother), Miss Barbara (his wife) and all those who loved him.

Rest in peace James.


CNN posted some of the best-loved video clips from The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air which enjoyed a six-year run on network television from 1990 to 1996 before becoming a syndicated favorite on cable channels. The list of stars who enjoyed guest roles on The Fresh Prince is long, and impressive. They range from recording artists to movie idols, from those unknown in the early 1990s to those legendary box office hits. Check the cast list for the NBC series that reads like a Who's Who in showbiz at IMDb.

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