On Dec. 31, James, 68, passed away from complications following an open heart surgery and television lost one of its beloved father figures.
Through The Fresh Prince of Bel Air, Uncle Phil managed two different wives, three children (okay, fine, four) and an unruly nephew while still maintaining a successful career as a judge.
With an impressive combination of comedy and reality, James taught valuable lessons to the audience—sometimes as a judge, other times as a father, regardless, he became everyone’s wise Uncle Phil.
To celebrate the life of this talented actor, we rounded up some of our favorite Uncle Phil moments from The Fresh Prince; check them out!
1. “Papa’s Got a Brand New Excuse” (Season 4, Episode 24)
As almost everyone knows, Will came to live with his Auntie and Uncle in Bel Air after his mom caught him getting in trouble in his native Philadelphia. From the theme song along, you can tell Will’s father isn’t exactly around. In this powerful episode, his dad returns, only to abandon him again. Luckily, Uncle Phil has a shoulder for Will to cry on in this emotional, heartfelt episode.
2. Family Matters
Okay, so this isn’t technically from Fresh Prince; in an episode of Family Matters, a child jokes that patriarch Carl Winslow (played by Reginald VelJohnson) looks like Uncle Phil… only to be confronted by the big guy himself!
3. “Mistaken Identity” (Season 1, Episode 6)
With an education from Princeton University and Harvard Law School, it’s no secret that Philip Banks is a super successful lawyer and judge; in this episode, we get to see his intelligence put to the test when Will and Carlton (Alfonso Ribeiro) are mistakenly charged with stealing a car.
4. “Mistaken Identity” (Season 1, Episode 6)
Part of what made Fresh Prince so successful and poignant is that it didn’t shy away from the tough issues—such as racism and inequality. In this clip, from the same episode as above, Will and Uncle Phil teach Carlton a powerful lesson about discrimination after he and Will are falsely accused of stealing a car.
5. “To Thine Own Self Be Blue… and Gold” (Season 5, Episode 22)
Think that dancing is Will and Carlton’s thing? Think again, after watching Uncle Phil bust a move!
6. “The Mother of All Battles” (Season 1, Episode 2)
One of the best recurring jokes on the show was Uncle Phil throwing Jazz (DJ Jazzy Jeff) out of his Bel Air mansion, and this scene—in the second episode of the entire series—is the first time it ever occurs!
7. “Just Say Yo” (Season 3, Episode 19)
In one of the most powerful scenes from this six-season sitcom, Will comes clean to Uncle Phil after Carlton takes Speed found in Will’s locker; when Will begins to cry while apologizing, Uncle Phil comforts him—creating an emotional scene for all.
8. Banks Shot (Season 1, Episode 22)
Uncle Phil wasn’t just a smart business man in his professional endeavors—he was also quick in the poll hall. In this memorable episode, Uncle Phil plays dumb before whipping out his impressive billiards skills in order to win money. This is a perfect example of Uncle Phil being the best just by being himself—without a punch line or joke at his expense!
9. Pilot (Season 1, Episode 1)
In this unforgettable scene from the first episode, Uncle Phil sets Will straight shortly after he arrives in California; sure, he was a hard-ass, but he was also a loving uncle who took all of Will’s fat jokes in stride, and a shining example a family leader.