James L. Avery
Burly African-American character player of TV with a richly resonant voice. Avery has been a familiar face since the mid-1980s as a frequent TV guest star usually playing a cop, judge or clergyman. He had recurring roles on shows as diverse as "L.A. Law", "Beauty and the Beast", and "Amen". Avery is best known as Phillip Banks, the uncle of Will Smith on the hit sitcom "The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air" (NBC, 1990-96). His character was a proud self-made success story who skillfully walks the delicate line between being a positive role model as a strong Black father figure and the butt of humor as a pompous windbag. After the show's demise, Avery once again portrayed a patriarch, this time as the father in a family of lawyers who served an inner-city community on the UPN sitcom "Sparks" (1996-98). Avery honed his acting skills as part of the Oregon Shakespeare Festival in Ashland before segueing to commercials and TV. He worked on several cartoons ("Going Bananas"; "Hulk Hogan's Rock'N'Wrestling"; "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles") before landing a stint as a primetime series regular on the sitcom "FM". Even here his voice was an integral part of his role as he played a radio personality who hosted two shows--one as a polished classical host and the other as a funky reggae deejay. Avery has also had small roles in several features beginning with "The Stunt Man" (1980) and continuing with films including "Three for the Road" (1987) and "License to Drive" (1988). He worked steadily as a character actor in both film and television after the end of "The Fresh Prince of Bel Air," including a recurring role as a doctor in the police procedural "The Closer" (TNT 2005-2012). James L. Avery died of complications from open-heart surgery on December 31, 2013, shortly after completing work on Zach Braff's feature "Wish I Was Here" (2014).