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James Avery, who played Uncle Phil on the hit '90s sitcom The Fresh Prince of Bel Air, passed away on Tuesday. The actor died of complications from open-heart surgery, his manager confirmed. He was 68.
Avery was best known as The Fresh Prince's patriarch, Philip Banks. "Uncle Phil" was the stern lawyer-turned-judge who served as a loving role model for his rambunctious nephew, played by Will Smith, who moved from a rough neighborhood in Philadelphia to live with his uncle's family in the prestigious Bel Air.
Though Smith hasn't publicly spoken out about Avery's passing, his wife, Jada Pinkett Smith, took to Facebook to express the couple's sympathies.
"Our condolences to aunt Florence (his mother), Miss Barbara (his wife) and all those who loved him," Pinkett Smith wrote.
Co-star Alfonso Ribeiro, who played Banks' son Carlton, also posted a Facebook message sharing his grief.
"I'm deeply saddened to say that James Avery has passed away," Ribeiro wrote. "He was a second father to me. I will miss him greatly."
Joseph Marcell, who played the Banks' butler Geoffrey, told CNN that Avery saw Fresh Prince as more than a sitcom that provided laughs. Avery thought the "striving of the African-American ought to have been shown on television," Marcell said. "What he has done for television, for African-Americans on television, is unsurpassable."
In addition to Fresh Prince, Avery appeared in a number of TV shows and movies, including CSI, The Closer and That '70s Show. He most recently starred in Zach Braff's new film, Wish I Was Here, which will premiere at the Sundance Film Festival this month.
A native of Atlantic City, NJ, Avery is survived by his wife of 26 years, Barbara Avery; his mother, Florence Avery; and a stepson, Kevin Waters.