James Michael Tyler, most famous for playing Gunther, the manager of Central Perk in the hit sitcom Friends, has died aged 59.
In an interview with NBC in June 2021, Tyler announced that he had stage 4 prostate cancer, which was diagnosed in 2018.
“The world knew him as Gunther … but Michael’s loved ones knew him as an actor, musician, cancer-awareness advocate, and loving husband,” his family said 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.”
In May, he had appeared on Friends: The Reunion but was unable to attend in person due to his health issues. Appearing instead via Zoom, Tyler said: “It was the most memorable 10 years of my life, honestly.
“I could not have imagined just a better experience. All these guys were fantastic and just a joy to work with. It felt very, very special.”
Tyler said he didn’t reveal his illness before then because: “I didn’t want it to be like ‘Oh, and by the way, Gunther has cancer’.”
Tributes have poured in across social media, with some remembering the actor as the “seventh friend” due to his regular presence on the hit show.
Kevin Bright, former executive producer of Friends, tweeted: “James Michael Tyler Our Gunther passed away last night. He was an incredible person who spent his final days helping others. God bless you James, Gunther lives forever.”
Writer and producer Jeffrey Klarik who co created and produced the TV series Episodes with Friends actor Matt LeBlanc mourned Tyler’s passing as a “very sad day”.
“He was a lovely, lovely man. Today is a very sad day,” the director tweeted. Klarik’s partner David Crane was also the co-creator of Friends.
The official Friends Twitter page passed on a message from Warner Bros. Television Studios, writing: “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.”
Tyler also appeared in Sabrina the Teenage Witch, Scrubs and an episode of the BBC’s Episodes. But he was best known for his Friends role, and appeared regularly at fan events since the show ended.
Gunther was a firm fan favourite on Friends because of his deadpan delivery of both lines and coffee – and his unrequited love for Jennifer Aniston’s character Rachel Greene.
He finally admitted his feelings in the finale, when he found out Rachel was due to move to Paris. She replies: “I love you too … probably not in the same way. But when I’m in a cafe having coffee and I see a man with hair brighter than the sun, I’ll think of you.”
Other notable moments include a scene where Phoebe finds herself in an awkward situation after Robert, a man whom she is seeing, wears a pair of revealing gym shorts inside the coffee shop.
“Hey, buddy. This is a family place. Put the mouse back in the house,” Gunther says, saving Phoebe the embarrassment of telling him herself.
In another memorable scene, Gunther fantasises about asking Rachel out only to witness another man swoop in.
Furious, Gunther walks off camera as loud crashing noises can be heard backstage. After he returns, Gunther deadpans: “I dropped a cup.”
Tyler was initially cast while working as a barista at the Bourgeois Pig coffee shop in Los Angeles. However, he didn’t have a single line of dialogue on the show until he had made 33 appearances, according to the 2019 book, Generation Friends: An Inside Look at the Show That Defined a Television Era, by Saul Austerlitz. Of 236 episodes, Tyler appeared in 150.
Tyler is survived by his wife, Jennifer Carno.