After years of waiting, and for the very first time since the sitcom came to an end, the Friends cast reunited for the anticipated HBO Max Friends reunion in May, though one key star was notably absent. James Michael Tyler, who appeared in all 10 seasons of the beloved NBC sitcom as Gunther, did not attend the reunion in person, though his attendance via video link sparked plenty of excitement from Friends fans online. Now, weeks later, Tyler opened up about the tragic reason he could not attend the reunion, revealing on Monday's Today that he has been diagnosed with Stage 4 prostate cancer.
Tyler revealed his diagnosis while speaking with Today co-anchor Craig Melvin, revealing that he was initially diagnosed with "advanced prostate cancer, which had spread to my bones” in September 2018 following an annual checkup at the age of 56. Tyler said that he has been "dealing with that diagnosis," which is now Stage 4, "for almost the past three years" and added, "so eventually, you know, it's gonna probably get me." He told Melvin that while he "wanted to be a part" of the Friends reunion and was initially set "to be on the stage… and be able to take part in all the festivities," he ultimately decided an in-person appearance wasn't possible.
Actor James Michael Tyler (@slate_michael) played Gunther on “Friends” for 10 years, but he was unable to attend the recent cast reunion in person because he’s been battling a serious health issue. Now he’s sharing his news for the first time with @craigmelvin. pic.twitter.com/272tg4Sbvc— TODAY (@TODAYshow) June 21, 2021
"It was bittersweet, honestly. I was very happy to be included. It was my decision not to be a part of that physically and make an appearance on Zoom, basically, because I didn't wanna bring a downer on it, you know? ... I didn't want to be like, 'Oh, and by the way, Gunther has cancer,'" he said, adding that he enjoyed the opportunity to make his appearance "light-hearted" and "connect with" the cast again.
According to Tyler, after first receiving his diagnosis, he began hormone therapy, which "worked amazingly for about a year" and allowed him to "go about life regularly." Although the hormone therapy helped him live life "pretty much normal," the cancer eventually spread to his bones and spine, leading to paraplegia. Tyler said he "missed going in for a test, which was not a good thing" and the "cancer decided to mutate at the time of the pandemic, and so it's progressed." He is now undergoing chemotherapy which is "aggressively" fighting the cancer.
Tyler said he decided to open up about his diagnosis in the hopes of encouraging people to get screened, hoping to "save just one life." He said, "that's my only reason for coming out like this and letting people know. That's my new role."