James Michael Tyler, an actor beloved by Friends fans for playing Gunther on the sitcom, has died following a battle with stage 4 prostate cancer. Tyler was diagnosed with cancer in 2018, but he kept it secret until earlier this year when explaining why he only appeared in the HBO Max reunion special via Zoom. The actor was 59.
"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," Tyler's family said in a statement to TMZ Sunday. "Michael loved live music, cheering on his Clemson Tigers, and would often find himself in fun and unplanned adventures. If you met him once you made a friend for life."
When the HBO Max Friends reunion aired, fans were left wondering why Tyler, who appeared in 150 episodes of the show, was not in the studio with the rest of the cast. In June, Tylor told the Today Show he was diagnosed with stage 4 prostate cancer in September 2018 and it traveled to other parts of his body. Tyler said he didn't want to "bring a downer" to the reunion by revealing his cancer diagnosis for the first time.
"I wanted to be a part of that, and initially I was going to be on the stage, at least, with them, and be able to take part in all the festivities," Tyler told Today. "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.'"
Tyler's cancer was caught during an annual checkup when he was 56. His doctors screened for PSA (prostate-specific antigen), and he had an "extraordinary" high number, he explained. After more testing, a UCLA oncologist confirmed the illness was genetic and he began hormone therapy. His doctors were optimistic at first, but the cancer spread to his bones and spine. His lower body was paralyzed and he missed a test at the start of the coronavirus pandemic. He chose to come forward on Today to raise awareness for prostate cancer.
"There are other options available to men if they catch it before me," Tyler said on Today. "Next time you go in for just a basic exam or your yearly checkup, please ask your doctor for a PSA test. It's easily detectable... If it spreads beyond the prostate to the bones, which is most prevalent in my form, it can be a lot more difficult to deal with."
Tyler appeared in the most episodes of Friends outside of the main cast members. He played Gunther, the manager of the Central Perk coffee house and a former actor. The Mississippi-born Tyler also appeared in an episode of Scrubs and former Friends star Matt LeBlanc's Episodes. He is survived by his wife, Jennifer Carno.