On New Years Eve James Avery, passed away due to complications from open-heart surgery. He was 68 years old.
Avery had an impressive acting career, including appearances on hit TV dramas such as ‘Grey’s Anatomy’ to his time as “The Shredder” on ‘Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles’.
I think we can all agree, his most memorable performance was Uncle Phil Banks, the stern father figure on the hit 90’s TV show ‘The Fresh Prince of Bel Air’.
Avery’s character on the hit television show taught us all some important life lessons. Although his tough exterior, Uncle Phil meant well and presented viewers with some lessons that made us all think about the way we lead our daily lives. Here are a few that have particularly stuck out to me:
- Be comfortable in your own skin. In one episode, Uncle Phil decided to try on some wigs to help boost his appearance. Like any balding man in America, he was feeling self-conscious about his looks. While trying on the wigs, he realized that they made him look and feel worse. He decided just to stick with his baldhead, embracing himself and feeling confidant about who he was.
- It’s okay to let loose every once in a while. Uncle Phil is best known for being the uptight father and uncle who didn’t really know how to let loose and have a little fun. On one episode, Will’s mom comes to visit the family. While she and his wife, Aunt Viv, danced to The Temptations, he sat there refusing to get up and show off his signature dance move “the swim”. That is until his wife pulls him up out of his seat and makes him break out of his comfort zone. He can get down, who would’ve thought?
- Instill fear, out of love. This was something Uncle Phil had no problem doing, considering he was a Supreme Court judge. He made sure that his children and nephew stayed out of trouble by scaring them into thinking he would do something terrible to them if anything happened. Of course, being one of the greatest father figures in television history, he meant all of it out of love.
- Find out about the person before you criticize him or her. In one of the very first episodes of ‘Fresh Prince’, Will embarrasses the family and blames it on everyone else around him. Uncle Phil confronts him; however, Will takes it as a personal attack on him and criticizes Uncle Phil for forgetting where he came from. Will was poorly mistaken, and Uncle Phil becomes insulted and responds with this strong line: “Let me tell you something, son. I grew up on the streets just like you. I encountered bigotry like you couldn’t imagine. Now, you have a nice poster of Malcolm X on your wall. I heard the brother speak. I read every word he wrote. Believe me, I know where I come from.” He closed the scene by telling Will to truly find out about a person before you criticize them. Uncle Phil leaves, but quickly returns to Will playing the piano, making him realize he should follow his own advice as well.
- It’s okay to be mad. In what was probably the most powerful moment in the show’s history, Will’s biological father comes back into his life, only to leave him again for some “business”. Once his father leaves, Will exhibits an emotional outburst that results in Uncle Phil giving the most important piece of advice he could give: “It’s okay to be mad”. Uncle Phil truly took Will in as his own in that moment, showing him the love that his father never gave to him.
At times, Uncle Phil was a true hard-ass. But no matter what, he was always there for his family and made sure to instill some important lessons in their lives as well as the lives of viewers of the show.
This intricate part of James Avery’s acting career will be remembered for years to come. Uncle Phil was an inspiration that no one will ever forget.
Rest in peace, James Avery.