James Avery, uncle from 'Fresh Prince of Bel Air,' has died

Palm & Sprint Benefit For Iraq & Afghanistan Veterans Of America - Arrivals

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Actor James Avery arrives at the Palm Pre Launch Event to Benefit Iraq and Afghanistan Veterans of America held at Raleigh Studios on June 3, 2009 in Los Angeles, California. Avery died on Dec. 31 in L.A. County, according to a spokesperson for his agency.

James Avery, the actor perhaps best known for his role as Will Smith's fictional uncle Philip Banks in the NBC sitcom "The Fresh Prince of Bel Air," has died. He was 68.

Avery passed away Tuesday night in Los Angeles County from complications from open heart surgery, said Toni Benson, a spokesperson for his agency, Third Hill Entertainment, in a statement.

Avery was born James La Rue Avery in Virginia and he was raised in Atlantic City, N.J. He was a classically trained actor and scholar who joined the U.S. Navy after high school and served in Vietnam from 1968 to 1969.

After being discharged from the military, Avery settled in San Diego, where he wrote poetry and television scripts for PBS, according to Benson. He received his B.A. in drama and literature from UC San Diego and an honorary doctorate in humane letters from Virginia State University.

He is survived by his mother, his step-son and his wife of 26 years, Barbara.

This story has been updated.

Correction: An earlier version of this story stated that James Avery was 67, but his agent said he was 68 according to his passport. The text has been updated accordingly.

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