In many ways, the relationship Will Smith and James Avery shared on The Fresh Prince of Bel Air – that of uncle and nephew – was similar to the one they held in real life – that of mentor and young, inexperienced actor.
Will Smith offered up a touching tribute to James Avery
Now, Will Smith stands as one of the biggest names in Hollywood, and the star’s tribute to the late Avery – who died aged 68 after complications with open heart surgery – suggests Uncle Phil played a huge part in that.
“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,” wrote Smith on his Facebook page.
The on-screen chemistry between the pair on the hit 90s show was there for all to see; whether Uncle Phil was chastising Will for one of his elaborate schemes, or offering tender, heartfelt advice to his kin, it was a partnership never to be forgotten.
Smith also uploaded a picture of the Fresh Prince gang, featuring many of the old family members. "This photo was the last time we were together," he wrote, accompanying the happy snap. The Fresh Prince was one of many shows that propelled black comedy and actors to the forefront.
The 90s was a huge period in that sense, and portraying a black family in contemporaneous America as rich and successful was certainly a stepping-stone. Despite being hilarious, well written, often timeless and pertinent, The Fresh Prince of Bel Air was socially important.
James Avery’s role as ‘big Phil’ has become a cult affair, with his gentle giant spirit – which is, by all accounts, as true to life as it was his best-known character – living on.
James Avery died on December 31st, 2013