James Michael Tyler died on Sunday following a battle with prostate cancer which was first diagnosed in 2018
Cover image source: IMDb | James Michael Tyler
James Michael Tyler, who made us all cringe and laugh with his phenomenal portrayal of Gunther in 90s' hit sitcom FRIENDS, has tragically passed away. He was just 59. According to The Associated Press, Tyler died on Sunday following a battle with prostate cancer which was first diagnosed in 2018. "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. If you met him once you made a friend for life," read a statement released by his heartbroken family. "Wanting to help as many people as possible, he bravely shared his story and became a campaigner for those with a prostate to get a... blood test as early as 40-years-old."
Appearing on NBC's Today in June, Tyler opened up about his cancer diagnosis. "I was diagnosed with advanced prostate cancer, which had spread to my bones," he told host Craig Melvin. "I’ve been dealing with that diagnosis for almost the past three years. ...It’s stage 4 (now). Late stage cancer. So eventually, you know, it’s gonna probably get me." Things seemed fine for a time but cancer eventually spread to his bones and spine leaving his paraplegic. Tyler noted that it mutated "right at the time of the pandemic." He explained, "I missed going in for a test, which was not a good thing. So cancer decided to mutate at the time of the pandemic, and so it's progressed."
While on the show he encouraged men to get screening done as the early diagnosis could help with the treatment. "A lot of men, if they catch this early, it's easily treatable," stressed the late actor. "I don't want people to have to go through what I've been going through. This is not ... an easy process." He also revealed that his condition kept him from appearing in person at the Friends reunion which recently aired on HBO Max. The artist's sudden demise left his former co-stars shaken as many took to social media to pay their tributes.
"Friends would not have been the same without you. Thank you for the laughter you brought to the show and to all of our lives. You will be so missed #JamesMichaelTyler," wrote Jennifer Aniston whose character Rachel Green hugely impacted Tyler's role. Gunther, who has been dubbed as the seventh friend, was the grumpy manager of the coffee house, Central Perk. He had a huge crush on Rachel, who briefly worked as a waitress in the establishment during the early seasons. Aniston also posted a photo of Tyler from the set and a short clip in the final episode where Gunther professed his love but was gently turned down by Rachel.
Even Lisa Kudrow, who played Phoebe Buffay, took to Instagram to pay tribute to the much-loved actor. "James Michael Tyler, we will miss you. Thank you for being there for us all. #jamesmichealtyler," she wrote. Meanwhile, Courteney Cox (who played Monica Geller) expressed, "The size of gratitude you brought into the room and showed every day on set is the size of the gratitude I hold for having known you. Rest In peace James. ♥️" Matt Le Blanc, whose character Joey Tribianni also worked at the coffee house for some time, shared, "We had a lot of laughs buddy. You will be missed. RIP my friend" alongside a picture of the two chatting in Central Perk.
Meanwhile, David Schimmer a.k.a Ross Geller thanked Tyler writing, "James, thank you for playing such a wonderful, unforgettable role in Friends and for being such a big-hearted gentleman and all-around mensch off-screen. You will be missed, buddy. #JamesMichaelTyler." Even the official Friends account posted a tribute on Instagram and Twitter that read, "Warner Bros. Television mourns the loss of James Michael Tyler, a beloved actor and integral part of our FRIENDS family. Our thoughts are with his family, friends, colleagues and fans."
Per BBC, Tyler appeared in almost 150 episodes of the American comedy which ran from 1994 to 2004. Apparently, he was an extra on the show who got the role just because he knew how to work the coffee machine. "As time went on, I think we realized he's funny - a really good actor," explained the show's co-creator, David Crane. "We just kept giving him more and more, and when we realized there was a storyline about his secret love for Rachel, it was just the gift that kept on giving," he added.
"His delivery was impeccable, he was so good that we found ourselves going to him for the punchline for a whole scene or for a whole episode. With just the littlest opportunity he created this indelible character. To this day, his character Gunther remains tremendously popular among fans. Tyler is survived by his wife Jennifer Carno.