James Michael Tyler, best known as the Central Perk barista Gunther on the beloved sitcom Friends, passed away on Sunday. He was only 59 years old.
Tyler announced his illness last summer on The Today Show, not long after appearing on the Friends reunion show on HBO Max. He revealed he had been diagnosed during a routine exam in 2018, but by that point his prostate cancer had already spread to his bones. “I’ve been dealing with that diagnosis for almost the past three years,” Tyler said. “It’s stage 4 (now). Late stage cancer. So eventually, you know, it’s gonna probably get me.”
While all of the main Friends cast, along with many of the show’s guest stars through the years, were present in person on the Warner Bros. lot for the Friends reunion, Tyler only appeared remotely. That was his decision, he told Today, explaining, “I didn’t wanna bring a downer on it, you know?” he said on Today. “… I didn’t want to be like, ‘Oh, and by the way, Gunther has cancer.’”
Tyler appeared on 148 of Friends’ 236 episodes as Gunther, the Central Park waiter who quietly pined for Rachel Green (and less quietly despised Ross for his relationship with her). Those appearances made Tyler the show’s single most-frequent guest star beyond the six actors in the main cast. Later in his career, he also made appearances on the shows Just Shoot Me, Scrubs, and Episodes.
Several Friends stars have already posted tributes to their late co-star. Jennifer Aniston wrote on her Instagram “Friends would not have been the same without you. Thank you for the laughter you brought to the show and to all of our lives. You will be so missed.”
Courteney 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.”
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