Cookies help us deliver our Services. By using our Services, you agree to our use of cookies. Learn More.

Fresh Prince Of Bel-Air Actors You May Not Know Passed Away

Even though it's been 30 years since it first aired, The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air still holds an important place in TV history. The show launched the acting career of family-friendly rapper Will Smith, formerly known as The Fresh Prince, who was supported by a sizeable cast of actors over the course of its six seasons and 148 episodes.

The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air became one of the most popular sitcoms on American TV. It was nominated for multiple Golden Globes in 1993 and 1994 as well as an Emmy in 1996. The show also took home an ASCAP Film and TV Music Award, multiple NAACP Image Awards, and a 1991 Kids' Choice Award. The show's popularity has waned little in the years since it ended, and The Fresh Prince is now slated for a reboot.

Unfortunately, not every member of the original cast will be able to return. In the decades since The Fresh Prince finale in 1996, multiple actors from the show have died.

James Avery (Uncle Phil)

Even without his role on The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, James Avery was a prolific part of many childhoods. He famously voiced the maniacal ninja villain Shredder in the original 1987 Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles cartoon. However, his face became a regular sight for Americans when he joined The Fresh Prince cast as Philip Banks, Will's strict but well-meaning uncle. Avery is one of just six actors to appear in all 148 of the show's episodes.

Avery died at the age of 68 on Dec. 31, 2013, due to complications from heart surgery he underwent over a month prior, according to CNN. His death was shortly followed by condolences from much of The Fresh Prince cast. Co-star Joseph Marcel, who played the family's butler, Geoffrey, praised Avery's legacy as an actor because "the striving of the African-American ought to have been shown on television. What he has done for television, for African-Americans on television is unsurpassable."

Virginia Capers (Hattie Banks)

Family was at the center of The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. And, while the show mainly focused on the core members of the Banks family unit, their extended family was also important. The character of Uncle Phil's mother, Hattie Banks, played by Virginia Capers, was no exception. The season 1 episode "Not with My Pig, You Don't" saw the introduction of her character and focused on Uncle Phil's relationship with both his mother and his rural origins. Capers would return as Hattie for another five episodes before the end of the series.

Capers died on May 6, 2004, at the age of 78, according to IMDb. The New York Times reported that she died from pneumonia. In addition to her time on screen, Capers was a prolific stage actress known for her role as Lena Younger in the musical Raisin. In 1974, she won a Tony Award for this role.

Sherman Hemsley (Judge Carl Robertson / George Jefferson)

Though he only appeared on The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air as two side characters, Judge Carl Robertson and George Jefferson, Sherman Hemsley held an equally important place in African-American television history as Geroge Jefferson, leading man of the classic TV series The Jeffersons and All in the Family. Several of his appearances on The Fresh Prince were crossover episodes where he appeared as this iconic role (via IMDb).

According to The Hollywood Reporter, Hemsley died from lung cancer in July 2012. He was 74. However, he wasn't immediately given a proper burial. A dispute over Hemsley's estate emerged when a man claiming to be Hemsley's brother contested his will despite Hemsley signing it six weeks before dying. 

Further disputes over the actor's possessions occurred prior to and following his death. As a separate THR article reports, Hemsley sold the rights to his residual income during a period of his life where he "suffered financial difficulties." Two men battled in court over these residuals, creating and breaking several legally binding agreements for over a year after Hemsley's death. Regardless, Hemsley will be forever remembered for his iconic contributions to the history of television.