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James Avery

Actor and star of The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air.

Born: November 27, 1945; Died: December 31, 2013

James Avery, who has died aged 68, was a character actor who laid down the law at home and on the job as the Honourable Philip Banks in The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air.

Avery played the family patriarch and a wealthy attorney and judge on the popular television comedy that launched the acting career of Will Smith as Banks' trouble-making nephew.

The sitcom, which was shown from 1990 to 1996, was set in the Banks' mansion, to which Smith's character was sent from Philadelphia when things got tough in his own neighbourhood. Fans came to know the imposing Banks as Uncle Phil.

Avery liked to say that the way to be an actor was to act, and he had a busy and diverse career before, during and after Fresh Prince.

His television credits included Grey's Anatomy, NYPD Blue, Dallas and Star Trek: Enterprise and among his many films were Fletch, Nightflyers and 8 Million Ways to Die.

His voice alone brought him many jobs, notably as Shredder in the animated series Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.

He was born in Pughsville, Virginia, and brought up in Atlantic City by his single mother. He joined the US Navy when he left school and served in the Vietnam War in the late 1960s.

On returning to the US, he pursued his ambitions to become a writer and actor. He wrote scripts and poetry and won a scholarship to the University of California in San Diego.

After graduating in drama and literature in 1978, he joined a writers' collective while also taking on his first acting roles. His stage debut was in the role of God and his first appearance in film was in The Blues Brothers in 1980, although it was a small, uncredited role.

He went on to establish a solid career as a working television actor, often playing establishment figures, such as a judge on LA Law. He also had a respected career on the stage and played Othello at the Oregan Shakespeare Festival.

His last television appearance was in 2012 in the soap The Young and the Restless.

He will also be seen in the film Wish I Was Here, directed by Zach Braff and scheduled to premiere later this month at the Sundance festival.

He is survived by his wife, Barbara, and stepson, Kevin Waters.

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