James Avery, the actor behind Uncle Phil and the Shredder from Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles, has died at age 65.
One of the hallmarks of someone who grew up in the early to mid-90s is that they can mostly likely remember the theme to Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. Just try it 90s children. If you’re anything like me, it will probably take you all of one line of the song (“In west Philadelphia born and raised”) to have you reciting the entire thing from eerily accurate memory. It, like the Ducktales theme, is just one of those TV songs that etches itself forever on the fabric of your mind.
The reason it had the opportunity to do this, however, was the fact that Fresh Prince was a pretty danged funny show that. A lot of this owed to the performance of one young Will Smith, but when you get to it, a star is only as good his foil, and Mr. Smith had one of the greatest in James Avery’s Uncle Phil. Equal parts funny, dignified, lovable and threatening (the man was the voice of the Shredder for Cthulu’s sake), without him Fresh Prince would have been a mere husk of the great series that won over so many long-lived fans.
Sadly, Avery, whose long career includes roles in countless TV shows and movies, in addition to voice work, passed away Tuesday from complications during open-heart surgery. His death has reaped a not unexpected outcry of sadness from his former co-stars. Joseph Marcell, who played the butler Geoffrey, described Avery as “a marvelous man and truly wonderful actor”, while Alfonso Ribeiro, who played Carlton, Tweeted that he is”deeply saddened” by his death. Ribeiro would go on to say that “he was a second father to me” and that he “will miss him greatly.” Jada Pinkett Smith has also posted her and Will Smith’s condolences on her Facebook page. Avery was 65 years old.