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January 2, 2014

James Avery dead at 68

NEW YORK — James Avery, the bulky character actor who laid down the law at home and on the job as the Honorable Philip Banks in “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air,” has died.

Avery's publicist, Cynthia Snyder, told The Associated Press that Avery died Tuesday in Glendale, Calif., following complications from open heart surgery. He was 68, Snyder said.

Avery, who stood more than 6 feet tall, played the family patriarch and a wealthy attorney and judge on the popular TV comedy that launched the acting career of Will Smith as Banks’ troublemaking nephew.

The sitcom, which aired on NBC 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 neighborhood. 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 TV credits included “Grey's Anatomy,” '”NYPD Blue” and “Dallas,” 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 TV series “Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles.”

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