James Avery (born James LaRue Avery, November 27, 1945-December 31, 2013) was an African-American Actor in television and animation. He was best known to TV audiences as Judge Phillip Banks on the NBC sitcom The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air (it's entire run: 1990-1996) and as the voice of Shredder on Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. He appeared as a panelist on the late 1990s revival of the classic game show Match Game.
Born in Pughsville, Hampton Roads (now Suffolk) Virginia but raised in Atlantic City, New Jersey. After he graduated from High School, Avery served in the Vietnam War as a member of the U.S. Navy from 1968–1969. Later on in life, James moved to San Diego, California, where he began to write poetry and TV scripts.
As he risen to fame, James did voice acting for many animated series, most notably the 1987 Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles series (as the voice of Shredder) and James Rhodes/War Machine in the 1990s Iron Man series.
He also began to land guest starring roles on a number of television programs including The Jeffersons, Simon and Simon, Hill Street Blues, The A-Team, 227, and Night Court.
It wasn't until 1990 when he landed the TV role would make him a household name and his most notable work to sitcom audiences: Judge Phillip Banks on the NBC sitcom The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air starring rapper-turned-actor Will Smith (debuting September 10). Ratings soared, dominating the primetime slots. The series ran for six seasons, ending it's run on May 20, 1996 (still despite high ratings). Despite no award nominations and wins, playing the role of Phillip Banks earned James the #34 spot in TV Guide 's "50 Greatest TV Dads of All Time."
After Fresh Prince, Avery mostly went on to continue to lend his voice to various animated programs which include Spider-Man, The Wild Thornberrys, Pepper Ann, The Legend of Tarzan, and The Proud Family. He also landed guest starring roles on various shows including For Your Love, Dharma & Greg, The Jamie Foxx Show, and That '70s Show.
He reunited with his Fresh Prince of Bel-Air daughters Karyn Parsons and Tatyana M. Ali as they competed on a special celebrity edition of the Game Show Network original series Catch 21 hosted by his TV son Alfonso Ribeiro (Avery was eliminated after the first round & the game was won by Ali).
In 1988, Avery married a woman named Barbara (talking his last name) and while he had no children of his own, he was the stepfather to Barbara's son, Kevin, from a previous relationship.
On December 31, 2013, at the age of 68, Avery died from complications following open heart surgery at Glendale Memorial Medical Center. He is survived by his mother Florence Avery, as well as his wife and stepson.
His Fresh Prince of Bel-Air co-stars took to social media to express their condolences and memories of the late actor. Janet Hubert, who played Avery's original wife, Vivian for the first three seasons (Daphne Maxwell Reid took over the role for the remaining three seasons), said after his death "RIP James, all the world is a stage, and we are all merely players in this production called LIFE.". Will Smith commented on his 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." and Joseph Marcell (who played Geoffrey the butler) called Avery a "gentle giant".
One's of James' last television appearances before his death was playing a judge on the CBS soap opera The Young and The Restless.
His remains were later cremated and were scattered near the Pacific Ocean.