The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air star James Avery has died, aged 68.

The actor, who is best known for playing Uncle Phil on the hit sitcom from 1990 to 1996, passed away on Tuesday (December 31, 2013) following complications related to open heart surgery, his publicist has confirmed.

Alfonso Ribeiro, who played Carlton Banks in the series, paid tribute to his former cast-mate on Twitter and Facebook, writing: "The world has lost a truly special man. I am very saddened to say that James Avery has passed. 

"Even though he played my father on TV, he was a wonderful father figure to me in life. He will be deeply missed."

Will Smith's wife Jada Pinkett Smith also paid tribute to the late actor, saying they had "lost yet another friend". She posted on Facebook: "Our condolences to aunt Florence (his mother), Miss Barbara (his wife) and all those who loved him. Rest in peace James."

Avery starred in in 141 episodes of The Fresh Prince of Bel-Air alongside his on-screen nephew, Will Smith.

He was also known for his voice-over work, providing the voice of Shredder in the original Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles TV series (1987 - 1993).

The actor also appeared in a number of films and TV shows throughout his career including Grey's Anatomy and Star Trek: Enterprise.