James Avery was a personal friend, colleague and supporter of AASC. I met him through a mutual friend and Bay Area veteran actor Jimmy Carpenter, going on 12 years ago. We spent the afternoon at my home in Oakland talking about theater, acting and Shakespeare. We had never met before that day, but he’d heard of me and I certainly knew of him from his wonderful work as “Uncle Phil” in Fresh Prince of Bel Air (ranked 34th on TV Guides 50 Greatest TV Dads of all time!)
James was trained as a Shakespearean actor and was good at it! We spent that afternoon reciting speeches til late in the day, talking about creating roles, his roles in Ashland, San Jose Rep and Long Wharf and much more. His laughter was booming and infectious and his friendship was true and honest.
I recently asked James to come to AASC to direct for us to which he answered with an enthusiastic: Yes! There was even talk of starting a theater and school in Los Angeles with our mutual friends Denise Woods and Keith David.
In 1997, he established the James Avery endowed scholarship fund which will continue in perpetuity to provide undergraduate scholarships for African-American students majoring in the performing arts at UC San Diego, where he obtained his Bachelor of Arts Degree in Drama and Literature.
James always said most of his television characters resemble his own personality: “I come from poor roots and used to say to my mother how unfair it was that Blacks need to be ten times better than anyone else to make it. She would say: ‘Stop whining and be ten times better!’ ”
You were, my friend, and you will be missed.
L. Peter Callender
Artistic Director, AASC