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James Michael Tyler, Actor Who Played Gunther on ‘Friends,’ Dies at 59

·3 min read

James Michael Tyler, an actor beloved for his portrayal of Gunther on “Friends,” died of prostate cancer on Sunday morning, his manager confirmed to Variety. He was 59.

Tyler died peacefully in his Los Angeles home. The actor was diagnosed with advanced prostate cancer in September 2018. Tyler shared his story earlier this year on “Today.” He also worked as a campaigner for individuals with prostates to get a first blood test as early as 40 years old.

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“Michael’s loved ones knew him as an actor, musician, cancer-awareness advocate and loving husband,” his manager 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.”

“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,” “Friends” co-creators Marta Kauffman and David Crane said in a statement.

“Warner Bros. Television mourns the loss of James Michael Tyler, a beloved actor and integral part of our FRIENDS family,” reads a post on the official “Friends” Twitter account. “Our thoughts are with his family, friends, colleagues and fans.”

Tyler was most well-known for his performance as Gunther, a worker at the Central Perk cafe who reserves an unrequited love for Jennifer Aniston’s Rachel, on the wildly popular NBC sitcom “Friends.” Dubbed by many as “the seventh ‘Friend,'” the actor was a series mainstay, first appearing as a background character in the second episode of “Friends” and returning as a guest star across the remainder of its 10-year run. He is the most frequently recurring guest star across the series. Tyler also made an appearance via a video conference on the HBO Max special “Friends: The Reunion” earlier this year.

“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 said about the reunion. “It was bittersweet, honestly. I was very happy to be included. 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.’”

Beyond “Friends,” Tyler’s acting credits stretch back to 1992, including series like “Sabrina the Teenage Witch,” “Scrubs” and “Modern Music.” While undergoing treatment, he continued to perform, starring in two short films — “The Gesture and the Word” and “Processing” — which earned him best actor awards at several domestic and international film festivals.

This year, Tyler’s spoken word performance of Stephan Kalinich’s poem “If You Knew” was adapted into a short video to help raise awareness for the Prostate Cancer Foundation.

Tyler is survived by his wife, Jennifer Carno.

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