The Day Uncle Phil and Don Cheadle Shook Hands

April 9th, 1865, Ulysses S. Grant and Robert E. Lee shook hands.

December 21, 1970, Elvis Presley and Richard Nixon shook hands. 

October 10th, 1990, Don Cheadle shook hands with Uncle Phil. 

It’s nearly impossible to say which of these handshakes was more monumental.

Grant led the Union army to victory over the Confederacy in the Civil War and everntually became the 18th president of the United States. Presley brought Rock N’ Roll music into the mainstream and effectively changed the landscape of American popular culture moving forward. Don Cheadle delivered an Oscar-worthy performance in the inspiring film Hotel Rwanda and then shocked us all with his range in Hotel for Dogs. Who is to say which of these men is most important in the grand scheme of things?

When James Avery, the actor who played “Uncle Phil” on the sitcom Fresh Prince of Bel-Air, passed away last week after open heart surgery, I was instantly shocked and dismayed. I wanted to write something about it, but it took me a week to catch my bearings. 

Like so many other people born between 1978-1991 Uncle Phil played no small part in helping raise me. While I was lucky enough to have very attentive parents of my own, neither of them had grey beards, wore patterned sweater vests or engaged in witty banter with the British butler (in fact, I was deprived of even having a sassy, British butler as a child).

Will Smith said this week that “every young man needs an Uncle Phil,” and through the miracles of television, many of us did. I’ve written a lot about Fresh Prince of Bel-Air. No seriously, I’ve written a lot about it. But not once have I written about how hot Ashley Banks was in the last few seasons. That’s out of respect for Phillip Banks. 

I thought about providing you people with a long string of Youtube videos showcasing Uncle Phil’s finest scenes, but that’s too simple. When eulogizing someone it’s always a good idea to talk about the people who they touched.

One of the people who Uncle Phil touched was Don Cheadle… more specifically he touched his hand. On the fifth episode of the first season of Fresh Prince a 27-year old Don Cheadle guest starred as a character named “Ice-Tray.” I would tell you more about this episode, but I have actually written extensively about it already

What I failed to cover when I wrote about that episode was this:

Looking back, it’s like seeing a shooting star (or a double rainbow). THEY ACTUALLY TOUCHED HANDS.

Now, I think we can all agree that Don Cheadle is acting royalty. But I want to introduce something to you. It’s called Don Cheadle BHS and Don Cheadle AHS.

Don Cheadle BHS is of course “Before Hand Shake.” If you take a look at his IMDB page then you’ll notice before he shook Uncle Phil’s hand he had a bunch of one-episode roles in television shows and had been in only three credited movies. One of those roles includes a character called “Juicy Burgers Worker” in a movie called Moving Violations

But his “After Hand Shake” IMDB is just loaded with hits including: Boogie Nights, The Family Man, Traffic (Oscar winner), Swordfish, three Ocean’s Eleven movies, Crash (Oscar winner), Hotel Rwanda (Oscar nominations), Hotel For Dogs (arguably the all-time greatest movie about a hotel for dogs), two Iron Man movies, Flight (Oscar nomination), current role on the popular series House of Lies, and will be in the next Avengers movie.

Am I trying to imply that Don Cheadle was a good actor who, upon shaking hands with Uncle Phil, magically received some of his powers thus became a great actor and went on to star in terrific films for the next 20 years? No, of course not. How could I know that with any certainty?

I’m just saying that probably is what happened. 

If I haven’t touched you with that compelling and blatantly irrational argument then try to watch this video without crying:

R.I.P. Uncle Phil. We all miss you.

Jonny Auping

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