Central Perk has lost its most beloved employee. Actor James Michael Tyler, who was best known for his role as Gunther in Friends, died at age 59 on Sunday, Oct. 24 of stage 4 prostate cancer, TMZ reports. James Michael announced his cancer diagnosis on June 21, telling TODAY’s Craig Melvin, “eventually, you know it’s gonna probably get me.”
His family also issued a statement. “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,” they said to TMZ. ” 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.”
James Michael was born on May 28, 1962 in Greenwood, Mississippi as the youngest of five children. His father died when he was 10 years old, and his mother died when he was 11. With his sister, James Michael moved to Anderson, South Carolina and graduated from Anderson College in 1982 and then from Clemson University with a degree in genealogy. He was a member of a student theatre group at Clemson, which inspired him to seek out a career in acting.
After moving to Los Angeles in 1988, James Michael worked as a production assistant on the war film Fat Man and Little Boy. Six year later, James Michael began starring in Friends as Gunther, the sarcastic manager of the Central Perk coffee shop who had a crush on Jennifer Aniston‘s Rachel Green. He appeared in 148 total episodes across all ten seasons of the beloved NBC sitcom, the most of any other recurring character.
On June 21, James Michael revealed in the TODAY interview that his prostate cancer was discovered during a routine physical nearly 3 years ago when he was 56 years old. “In September of 2018, I was diagnosed with advanced prostate cancer, which had spread to my bones,” James Michael said. Unfortunately, his cancer mutated during the COVID pandemic which caused fractures in his bones and tumors up and down his spine. At the time of the interview, he was no longer able to walk.
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
While in tears, James Michael told Craig that he regretted not listening to his wife, Jennifer Carno, sooner regarding his health struggles. “I would have gone in earlier and would have been, you know, caught earlier,” he said. Before Jennifer, James Michael was married to Barbara Chadsey from 1995 to 2014.
James Michael was unable to personally attend the Friends reunion special on HBO Max due to his health. However, he did call in via video, much to the pleasure of the lead stars. In the TODAY interview, he said that David Schwimmer “corresponded” with him on Instagram after hearing about the diagnosis, and was “sure” that the other Friends stars knew about his cancer diagnosis by that point. Rest in peace, James Michael Tyler.