The unofficial seventh friend dedicated his life to making others laugh and then calling for more awareness for prostate cancer
The US actor James Michael Tyler, best known for his role as Gunther in Friends, has died aged 59. Tyler passed away peacefully at his home in Los Angeles on Sunday morning, according to a statement from his manager.
“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.
"If you met him once you made a friend for life," it said.
"[He] is survived by his wife, Jennifer Carno, the love of his life". Tyler was diagnosed with advanced prostate cancer in 2018 which later spread to his bones.
The actor had urged other men to get screened for the disease.
"Wanting to help as many people as possible, he bravely shared his story and became a campaigner for those with a prostate to get a... blood test as early as 40-years-old," his manager said. Gunther worked as a waiter and manager in the popular sitcom's coffee house, Central Perk, and became a popular figure among Friends fans partly because of his deadpan delivery. Throughout the show, he had a crush on Jennifer Anniston's character Rachel, who also worked there as a waitress in early seasons. In May, Tyler made a short appearance on the Friends reunion special last month via Zoom as he was unable to attend in person due to his health issues. "It was the most memorable 10 years of my life, honestly," said the actor at the time.
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Tributes for the actor poured out on social media, led by Friends co-stars including David Schwimmer, Jennifer Aniston, Courtney Cox and Matt LeBlanc.
Schwimmer thanked Tyler in an Instagram post for playing "such a wonderful, unforgettable role" in Friends. Schwimmer, who played Ross in the series, went on to call Tyler "such a big-hearted gentleman". He finished the post: "You will be missed, buddy."
Aniston, who played Rachel, shared an Instagram post which included a photo of Tyler from the set and a clip of the pair in the final episode as Gunther declares his love for Rachel before being let down gently. “Friends would not have been the same without you,” the 52-year-old wrote in the post’s caption. “Thank you for the laughter you brought to the show and to all of our lives. You will be so missed”.
Co-star Courteney Cox, who played Monica Geller, posted the same photo of Tyler in a pink-striped collared shirt and tie to express her “gratitude” to her former co-star.
Cox wrote: “The size of gratitude you brought into the room and showed every day on set is the size of the gratitude I hold for having known you.
“Rest In peace, James.”
Matt LeBlanc shared the same photo of Tyler as his co-stars, while the actor led with a still of the pair either side of Central Perk’s counter.
“We had a lot of laughs buddy,” LeBlanc wrote in the Instagram post’s caption.
“You will be missed. RIP my friend”.
Kevin S Bright, an executive producer on Friends, also paid tribute following the death, saying: “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”. The official Friends Twitter account said: “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”.
As well as playing Gunther, Tyler’s other TV roles included teen sitcom Sabrina, The Teenage Witch and medical comedy Scrubs.
In 2021, Tyler’s spoken word performance of Stephen Kalinich’s poem If You Knew was adapted into a short video to raise awareness for the Prostate Cancer Foundation.