Actor James Michael Tyler, best known for his role as Gunther on the TV sitcom ‘Friends,’ has passed away after battling prostate cancer.
“James Michael Tyler Our Gunther passed away last night. He was an incredible person who spent his final days helping others. God bless you James, Gunther lives forever,” Kevin Bright tweeted Sunday evening. Bright served as an executive producer on the series.
Tyler, 59 played Gunther, the Central Perk barista who was forever in love with Rachel, for 10 years. Many fans of the show dubbed him the seventh friend.
Tyler died on Sunday (US time) at home in Los Angeles, his manager Toni Benson said.
“The world knew him as Gunther (the seventh ‘friend’), from the hit series Friends, but Michael’s loved ones knew him as an actor, musician, cancer-awareness advocate, and loving husband,” Benson wrote in a tribute.
Tyler is survived by his wife, Jennifer Carno.
Tyler, who also appeared briefly in 1990s series such as Just Shoot Me! and Sabrina the Teenage Witch, was cast as a background character in the second series of Friends in 1994.
He didn’t have a line of dialogue on Friends until he had made 33 appearances on the show. During its 236 episodes, Tyler appeared in 150 of them.
He earned his role because he was a real-life barista before being cast on the show. He was elevated from his role as a regular background extra because he was the only extra who knew how to work the espresso machine behind the counter at Central Perk.
While it only gave him a little more screen time in season one, it led to his being a regular extra, and then a regular character on the hit NBC sitcom.
He revealed his diagnosis in mid-June, about three years after his treatment began in 2018, in an emotional interview with the anchor of the US Today show, Craig Melvin. He told Melvin he was having chemotherapy and urged others to be proactive about getting screened for the disease.
“I’m sorry to say that I’m not appearing with you today to announce that there’s going to be a Friends movie,” he said.
“I’m here to let you know that in September of 2018, I was diagnosed with advanced prostate cancer, which had spread to my bones.”
He told the show he had been placed on a hormone therapy that “worked amazingly” for months. But “right at the time of the pandemic” beginning in 2020, the cancer “progressed” and spread throughout his body, affecting his spine, which led to paralysis of his lower body.
“I’ve been dealing with that diagnosis for almost the past three years. … It’s stage four [now], late-stage cancer. So eventually, you know, it’s gonna probably get me,” he said.
By the time he spoke to the show, Tyler could no longer walk.
He did make a brief cameo via video in the much-anticipated Friends reunion in May, alongside the six main cast members.
“I didn’t want it to be like, ‘Oh, and by the way, Gunther has cancer’, you know what I mean?” he said of his participation in the reunion.
Warner Bros Television, which produced the hit series, mourned the death of Tyler, “a beloved actor and integral part of our Friends family”.
“All I had to do was take a pill in the morning and the night, and boom, life was pretty much normal,” Tyler said. “… I had it then, but (was) able to function normally. … I was feeling fine, honestly. I had no symptoms, I didn’t feel any symptoms. And it was very easy to regulate.”
But right before the pandemic started, his cancer spread and mutated and caused his lower body to become paralysed.
Once Friends concluded in 2004, Tyler made appearances on Scrubs, Modern Music and he played himself on an episode of Matt LeBlanc’s Episodes in 2012.
He spent the last few years of his life attempting to raise awareness for early screening for prostate cancer. He continued to perform throughout being treated for the disease, appearing in two short films and winning best-actor awards at multiple film festivals.
(AAP; Picture Courtesy: NBC Studios)