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James Avery dies at 68

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Tragic news for celebrity followers in Fresno and all over the world today as actor James Avery passed away December 31, 2013, at the age of 68 due to complications following open heart surgery.

As reported by such sources as The Huffington Post, Avery died at a Los Angeles suburb hospital, Glendale Adventist Medical Center.

Avery's publicist confirmed the news to CNN, as did his former co-star Alfonso Ribeiro, who tweeted, "I'm deeply saddened to say that James Avery has passed away. He was a second father to me. I will miss him greatly."

A classically trained actor and poet who was raised by a single mother in Atlantic City, New Jersey, and who served in the Navy during the Vietnam War, Avery is best known to audiences for his iconic role as the Honorable Philip Banks, a.k.a. "Uncle Phil," in the 90s sitcom The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. Avery's character was essentially a miser, a somewhat strict and gruff man, but who did have a softer side and who was an upstanding citizen trying to raise his nephew Will (played by Will Smith) to be the same way. Nonetheless, the character was also known for letting his anger get him into trouble at times, especially whenever he felt his image was being besmirched. The character was so popular with television audiences that he was ranked #34 in TV Guide's "50 Greatest TV Dads of All Time."

Avery's credits so not end there however, his career starting as far back as an uncredited role as a dancer in the film The Blues Brothers, and appearing on television from 1983 onward beginning with such hit shows as Newhart, The Jeffersons and Hill Street Blues. He also played Michael Kelso's commanding officer at the police academy near the end of the run of That '70s Show. He even appeared as Klingon General K'Vagh in the episodes "Affliction" and "Divergence" of Star Trek: Enterprise. His final on-screen appearances are in the films Wish I was Here and Valediction (both of which have yet to be released, however the former is scheduled to premiere at the Sundance Film Festival this month) and as Judge Roy Daley on two episodes of The Young and the Restless.

Avery was also an accomplished voice actor with many notable roles to his name, the most famous of which being his comedic performance as the Shredder in the 1987 Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles cartoon. He also provided the voice for Boss Fang in the English dub of the anime film Fist of the North Star, War Machine in both the 90s Iron Man and Spider-Man animated series, Junkyard Dog in Hulk Hogan's Rock 'n' Wrestling, and many other roles if various series.

For this examiner, Avery holds a special place in my heart for the dignity and energy he put into every role he played, including his performances as Uncle Phil and as the Shredder, for whom I remember him best. My deepest of condolences go out to his family and friends for their loss.

Rest in Peace Mr. Avery, you will be missed.

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