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Co-stars remember ‘Uncle Phil’ following James Avery passing

1/8/2014, 4:13 p.m.
Memorial plans are still underway for James Avery, the actor who played “Phil Banks” on the “Fresh Prince of Bel-Air”for ...
Will Smith, right, posted a remembrance of his late “Fresh Prince of Bel-Air” costar James Avery, second from right, who played Uncle Phil on the 1990s sitcom. Also shown are costars Tatyana Ali, from left, Karyn Parsons and Alfonso Ribeiro. PHOTO: Will Smith / Facebook

Memorial plans are still underway for James Avery, the actor who played “Phil Banks” on the “Fresh Prince of Bel-Air”for six seasons, but that hasn’s stopped his former co-stars and friends from telling the world what kind of person he was.

Daphne Maxwell Reid, the actress who played Vivian Banks, Phil Banks’, wife on the show, recalled her friendship with Avery.

“We were very close,” said the actress in a televised interview. She now lives in nearby Petersburg and runs New Millennium Studios with her husband, actor and director, Tim Reid.

“He and his wife and Tim and I have traveled together, and done lots of things together and I admired him. He was a wonderful, wonderful man and I'm going to miss his hugs.

“He always had some little piece of information and insight that he shared with everybody. He was an avid reader, and he was always reading. When he wasn’t reading, he and I were dancing down the hall.”

Avery died Dec. 31 at age 65 at a Glendale hospital, following complications from open heart surgery.

“I’ve spoken to his wife, and she’s doing pretty well under the circumstances,” said Maxwell Reid. “I was concerned she didn’t have anybody out there with her. James’ mother lives on the East Coast as well, and she's not able to travel, so I talked to her too.”

Actor Will Smith also eulogized his late costar, his television father figure, with a reverential Facebook message posted Sunday.

The 45-year-old, whose rap career was parlayed into a blockbuster film career after the 1990s family-friendly comedy, posted a photo of himself alongside Avery and their “Fresh Prince of Bel-Air” costars Tatyana Ali, Karyn Parsons and Alfonso Ribeiro, who played the wealthy Banks children. Avery played Smith’s domineering Uncle Philip Banks on the NBC sitcom, which aired from 1990 to 1996.

“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,” read the caption on Smith’s official Facebook page.

Avery’s Judge Philip Banks took in the ragamuffin teen at his posh manor in Bel-Air following “one little fight” in Smith’s native Philadelphia.

The group snapshot was taken the last time the costars were all together, the caption said, but it is unclear when that was.

Soon after Avery’s death, Ribeiro, who played Philip Banks’ pretentious son, Carlton Banks, remembered the actor on Twitter.

“I’m deeply saddened to say that James Avery has passed away,” he wrote on New Year’s Day. “He was a second father to me. I will miss him greatly.”

Ali, who played Philip Banks’ streetwise youngest child, Ashley, also shared a few words about the late Avery.

“James was my teacher my protector & the most magnificent actor. We’re feeling his loss very deeply. He’ll always be a part of me #JamesAvery,” she tweeted, later sharing a few photos of Avery on the set of “Fresh Prince.”

Avery’s posthumous body of work includes his final film, “Wish I Was Here,” directed by Zach Braff, which wrapped in September. The dramedy is set to premiere at the Sundance Film Festival this month.