Remembering James Michael Tyler

The actor who played the coffee–and-Rachel-Green-loving character on “Friends” will not be forgotten.


photo courtesy of the New York Post

The remarkable actor that played Gunther in the show “Friends” lost his battle to prostate cancer after three years.

Waverly Younts, Senior Staff Writer

Actor James Michael Tyler, who portrayed the role of a sarcastic manager and barista at the Central Perk coffee shop on Friends,”tragically passed away on Sunday, October 24th at the age of 59. 

He shared his diagnosis of advanced stage 4 prostate cancer with the world this past year despite being diagnosed in 2018. “My goal now is to help save at least one life by coming out with this news,” Tyler said when he announced his diagnosis. 

At first, Tyler was cast as simply an extra on Friends. But after producers experienced his unique personality, they promoted his role to a named character. His real-life training as a barista inspired the coffee-pouring character of Gunther. Although Gunther was not necessarily included in the same category as the six main characters, his fans very quickly gave him the moniker “seventh friend.” The unreciprocated love he has for Jennifer Aniston’s character, Rachel Green, and his “brighter than the sun” hair made Gunther a hilarious and genius character. 

“Gunther was a key part that made the show authentic,” NASH senior Lindey Glinoga highlighted. “I am saddened to hear that he has passed. He will be missed.”

Tyler’s illness was first noticed during a typical annual checkup. With that being said, during the last few months of his life, Tyler advocated for the regular screening for a prostate-specific antigen that can detect early diagnosis of cancer. 

“There are other options available to men if they catch it before me. Next time you go in for just a basic exam or your yearly checkup, please ask your doctor for a PSA test,” the late actor stressed around the time that he was receiving chemotherapy. “It’s easily detectable. If it spreads beyond the prostate to the bones, which is most prevalent in my form, it can be a lot more difficult to deal with.”

At the beginning phase of his diagnosis, Tyler was hopeful that treatments such as hormone therapy and medication would work because he was able to continue to live his life and function normally. However, when the cancer eventually spread to his bones and spine, it led to paraplegia, the paralysis of the lower body. 

When the time came to film the highly-anticipated Friends reunion, Tyler chose not to physically attend with the rest of the cast in person because he “didn’t want to bring a downer on it” due to his sickness. Instead, he made an appearance and got to reconnect with the members of his former cast via a Zoom call. The special showcased the cast revisiting some of their favorite on-screen moments, never before seen footage, and reminisced their memories of the show. 

“It was amazing to see the cast of my favorite show of all time back together once again,” explained NASH senior Olivia Phillips. “I really wish that James Michael Tyler could have been there in person, but I respect his decision to join in via video call.” 

Despite gaining the majority of his fame from playing Gunther on the hit sitcom, he also made appearances in episodes of Sabrina, the Teenage Witch and Iron Chef America.

Toni Benson, Tyler’s representative, came out with a statement after the actor peacefully passed away in his Los Angeles home. 

“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,” expressed Benson. 

The Friends cast and fans around the world were hurt by the loss of James Michael Tyler, but his work in Hollywood and advocacy for prostate cancer will not be forgotten. May he rest in peace.