NEW YORK — James Michael Tyler, the actor known for his recurring role as Gunther on “Friends,” has died. He was 59.
Tyler died Sunday at home in Los Angeles from prostate cancer, said his manager, Toni Benson. Tyler was first diagnosed with advanced prostate cancer in 2018 and revealed the diagnosis in June.
“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,” Benson wrote in a tribute. “Michael loved live music, cheering on his Clemson Tigers, and would often find himself in fun and unplanned adventures.”
Tyler had appeared briefly in 1990s series like “Just Shoot Me!” and “Sabrina the Teenage Witch” before being cast as a background character in the second episode of “Friends” in 1994. Over the show’s 10-year-run, he became the most frequently recurring guest star on the series as the Central Perk barista with an unrequited affection for Rachel (Jennifer Aniston).
Tyler was initially cast while working as a barista at the Bourgeois Pig coffee shop in Los Angeles. He didn’t have a line of dialogue on “Friends” until he had made 33 appearances on the show, according to the 2019 book “Generation Friends: An Inside Look at the Show That Defined a Television Era,” by Saul Austerlitz. Over the 236 episodes, Tyler appeared in 150 of them.
Warner Bros. Television, which produced the hit series, mourned the death of Tyler, “a beloved actor and integral part of our ‘Friends’ family.”
Once “Friends” concluded in 2004, Tyler made appearances on “Scrubs” and “Modern Music” and he played himself on an episode of Matt LeBlanc’s “Episodes” in 2012.
Though Tyler had hoped to attend May’s HBO Max’s “Friends” reunion in-person, he explained he was only able to appear virtually due to his health.
“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 explained. “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.’ ”
After being diagnosed with cancer, Tyler starred in two short films while undergoing treatment and gave a spoken-word performance of the Stephan Kalinich poem “If You Knew” to help raise awareness for the Prostate Cancer Foundation.
Tyler is survived by his wife, Jennifer Carno.