Dane McMillan | Staff Writer

America lost its favorite TV uncle this past New Year’s Eve. James LaRue Avery, best known for his role as Philip Banks on The Fresh Prince Bel-Air, died of complications of heart surgery. He was 68.

“The world has lost a truly special man. 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.” Alfonso Ribiero, known for playing Carlton Banks on the show, first broke the news on his Facebook page.

Actor Will Smith also went to Facebook to pay his condolences. “Some of my greatest lessons in acting, living and being a respectable human being came through James Avery. Every young man needs an Uncle Phil. Rest in Peace.”

Smith’s sentiment is true; every young man does need an Uncle Phil. The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air is a show that we all grew up with. Whether we realize it or not, Uncle Phil definitely served as an extra father figure for viewers as we watched him raise Will and Carlton. Avery was involved with plenty of other projects, such as NYPD Blue and Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.

Scene from The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, drawn by Travis Gatling.

Scene from The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, drawn by Travis Gatling.

He will always be remembered as Uncle Phil – a big man with an imposing presence who made you listen when he spoke. He was a lawyer who worked his way up to become a Superior Court judge, but always had time to be there for his kids, including Will, who he treated like his own biological son. Uncle Phil garnered respect from everyone around him, and personified what a father should be; as a Black man, this proved truly powerful for African-American audiences. It’s only fitting that TV Guide named him as one of the greatest TV dads of all-time.

Fresh Prince was one of my favorite shows growing up, so hearing that James Avery died was especially sad for me. You never really appreciate someone until they’re gone, and now when I watch the show I realize how influential Uncle Phil’s character was. He represented what a successful Black man looked like without ever accepting the label of a “sellout.” We should all look up to Uncle Phil. He was an amazing man, father, and iconic character. James Avery left behind an everlasting legacy. Rest in peace.