James LaRue Avery (November 27, 1945 - December 31, 2013) was an American actor, comedian, voice over artist and poet. He played patriarch Philip Banks in the sitcom The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air from 1990 to 1996 (co-starring with Alfonso Ribeiro). Avery's character, Philip Banks, was ranked #34 in TV Guide's "50 Greatest TV Dads of All Time." He also provided the voice of Shredder in the 1987 Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles television series, as well as War Machine in Iron Man: The Animated Series (1994-1995) and Junkyard Dog in Hulk Hogan's Rock 'n' Wrestling (1985). He also played Michael Kelso's commanding officer at the police academy late in the series run of That '70s Show (2004).
James Avery was born in Suffolk, Virginia on November 27, 1945 and was raised in Atlantic City, New Jersey.
He served in the Vietnam War as a member of the U.S. Navy from 1968 - 1969, after graduating high school. Later on, he moved to San Diego, California, where he began to write poetry and TV scripts for PBS.
He won an Emmy for production during his tenure there and then received a scholarship to the University of California, San Diego, where he attended Thurgood Marshall College (then Third College), earning a Bachelor of Arts degree in drama and literature in 1976.
James Avery started his acting career in 1980 where he had a uncredited role in the movie, The Blues Brothers.
In addition to his fame in sitcoms, he voice acting for many animated series, most notably the 1987 Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles series (as the voice of Shredder) and War Machine in Iron Man: The Animated Series which aired in the 90's.
Avery was the commencement speaker for his alma mater, UC San Diego's Thurgood Marshall College in 2007, and again in 2012.
In 1988, Avery married Barbara. He had no children of his own, but was a stepfather to his wife's son, Kevin Waters.
On December 31, 2013, Avery died at age 68, from complications following open heart surgery at Glendale Memorial Medical Center. He was survived by his mother, Florence Avery (1924 - 2016), as well as his wife and stepson.
Janet Hubert, who portrayed his original on-screen wife Vivian on The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, said after his death, "RIP James, all the world is a stage, and we are merely players in this production called LIFE." Will Smith commented on Avery's death by saying, "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." Joseph Marcell called Avery a "gentle giant".
The song "No Role Modelz" from 2014 Forest Hills Drive by J. Cole plays tribute to Avery. It contains the lyric "First things first rest in peace Uncle Phil. For real, you only father I ever knew."
Avery's remains were later cremated and scattered near the Pacific Ocean.