For six years (more if you count reruns) we watched James Avery play the no-nonsense yet loveable “Uncle Phil” to Will Smith’s “Fresh Prince” on the 1990s sitcom “The Fresh Prince of Bel Air.”
Avery, who died Tuesday at the age of 68, was an accomplished actor who played many a role in movies and on television. As “Uncle Phil” he was completely and utterly unforgettable. A proud Bel Air lawyer turned judge, Phillip Banks and his wife Vivian took in their wacky nephew Will after he got into “one little fight” in his west Philadelphia neighborhood.
Aunt Viv and Uncle Phil were wealthier than most, but we can all relate to the show’s noble premise: a family member with more advantages taking in a relative in need of a fresh start. We watched Will grow accustomed to private schools, the services of a butler and three pampered cousins who’d never seen a tough day in their lives.
Will and his sidekick cousin Carlton, played masterfully by Alfonso Ribeiro, needed tough love and got it from Uncle Phil at every turn. In six short years, Uncle Phil took Will and Carlton from boys to men giving us lots of laughs in between. Thanks, James Avery, for the lessons and the memories. We’ll miss you.