James Michael Tyler, the actor who portrayed Gunther in Friends, died peacefully at his home in Los Angeles on Sunday after battling stage 4 prostate cancer, Deadline has confirmed. He was 59.
Tyler, who was diagnosed with prostate cancer in 2018, opened up about his battles for Today in June. He confirmed that “late-stage cancer” had spread to his bones and spine, leading to paralysis of his lower body.
“So in the end, you know, it’s probably going to get me,” he said.
“All I had to do was take a pill in the morning and at night, and boom – life was pretty much normal,” he told Craig Melvin. He said the cancer mutated “right at the time of the pandemic.”
Tyler was born in Greenwood, Mississippi on May 28, 1962, the youngest of five children. At the age of 12, he had suffered the loss of both his parents. He moved in with a sister in South Carolina.
His love of acting flourished during his time at Clemson University, where he received a degree in geology in 1984, while performing as part of the student theater group. Four years later, he moved to Los Angeles, where he worked in Hollywood as a production assistant and assistant film editor.
He joined the cast of Friends in 1994 in the role of Gunther, a barista at Central Perk who fell in love with Jennifer Aniston’s Rachel. He appeared in more than 50 episodes of the popular sitcom through the finale in 2004. Gunther was often regarded as the unofficial 7th friend of fans.
Tyler also appeared largely in the show’s HBO Max reunion, which aired in May.
Other credits include appearances in Just shoot me!, Sabrina, the teenage witch, Scrubs, and Section.
While being treated, Michael went on to appear and star in two short films — The Gesture and the Word and Treatment — and won awards for Best Actor at various domestic and international film festivals. In 2021, his speech performance of Stephen Kalinich’s poem “If You Knew” was adapted into a short video to raise awareness of the Prostate Cancer Foundation.
Michael survives his wife, Jennifer Carno.
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