LOS ANGELES (CBSLA.com) — James Avery, the actor best known for portraying the uncle of Will Smith’s character on the hit 1990s sitcom “The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air”, has died, according to a spokesperson. He was 68.

Avery, who played “Uncle Phil” (Philip Banks) on the long-running NBC show, died on Tuesday due to complications from open heart surgery, according to publicist Cynthia Snyder.

Former “Fresh Prince” cast member Alfonso Ribeiro expressed his condolences on Twitter: “I’m deeply saddened to say that James Avery has passed away. He was a second father to me. I will miss him greatly.”

The classically trained actor and scholar worked until September of this year shooting the film “Wish I Was Here” directed by Zach Braff, which is scheduled to premiere at Sundance, Snyder said.

Born in Virginia and raised in Atlantic City, Avery joined the U.S.Navy and served in Vietnam from 1968 to 1969. He settled in San Diego after his discharge and wrote poetry and television scripts for PBS.

Avery won a scholarship to the University of California at San Diego, where he obtained his Bachelor of Arts degree in Drama and Literature. He also later received a Honorary Degree, Doctor of Humane Letters from Virginia State University in 1969.

He is survived by his wife of 26 years, his mother, and his stepson.

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