James Michael Tyler, best known for his recurring role as Central Perk manager Gunther on Friends, died Sunday morning following a years-long battle with Stage 4 prostate cancer, the actor’s rep confirmed to TVLine. He was 59 years old.
“The world knew him as Gunther (the seventh “Friend”), but Michael’s loved ones knew him as an actor, musician, cancer-awareness advocate and loving husband,” his family and long-time manager wrote in a statement. “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.”
Friends co-creators Marta Kauffman and David Crane also put out the following statement:
“James was a genuinely kind, sweet man. When he started as an extra on Friends, his unique spirit caught our eye and we knew we had to make him a character. He made Gunther’s unrequited love incredibly relatable. Our heart goes out to his wife, Jennifer Carno.”
Jennifer Aniston honored Tyler on Instagram Sunday evening, writing: “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.”
Warner Bros. Television, meanwhile, referred to Tyler as “a beloved actor and integral part of our Friends family. Our thoughts are with his family, friends, colleagues and fans.”
Tyler revealed his cancer diagnosis on June 21 during an interview with Today‘s Craig Melvin (see below). “In September of 2018, I was diagnosed with advanced prostate cancer, which had spread to my bones,” he said at the time. The cancer had been discovered during a routine physical when he was 56 years old.
He had been treated with hormone therapy, but took a turn for the worse at the height of the coronavirus pandemic. According to Today, his cancer had mutated, causing fractures in his bones and tumors up and down his spine. He was paralyzed from the waist down, and as a result chose to appear virtually during May’s Friends reunion on HBO Max.
“I didn’t want it to be like, ‘Oh, Gunther has cancer,’ you know what I mean?” he told Melvin. Asked if any of his former co-stars knew about his prognosis, Tyler answered, “Yes… David Schwimmer has corresponded with me via Instagram, the producers are all aware [and have been] aware for a long time.”
All told, Tyler appeared in 148 episodes of Friends. Gunther famously pined for onetime Central Perk waitress Rachel Greene, and finally admitted his feelings for her in the NBC sitcom’s 2004 finale.
Following Friends‘ run, Gunther reunited with Matt LeBlanc on Showtime’s Hollywood satire Episodes. Additional TV credits included episodes of Just Shoot Me!, Sabrina the Teenage Witch and Scrubs.
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